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How to infuse any organization with ethics

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 7:08AM

The Duke of Jing asked about government. Confucius replied that you will have government when the prince conducts himself like a prince, the minister a minister, the father a father and the son a son. Each person has his role to play in conducting himself with integrity to create a culture and environment of honor, integrity and trust

Confucius was right. Setting an ethical tone at the top of each pyramid is the key to good government and good management.

Where ethics and integrity are not upheld by top management, where the bottom line matters instead of focusing on matters of ethics and integrity, employees have been shown to be more prone to be corrupt and commit fraud. This is especially so when those in top management themselves commit fraud or seem unconcerned with corrupt practices. Corporate corruption and greed has scuppered governments and companies leaving stockholders cheated of their investments and innocent employees deprived of their jobs.

On the other hand, one would be mistaken to think that merely setting an ethical tone by creating a climate where top management uphold integrity and ethics, employees will naturally follow suit. This may be the case in small clusters where the organizational structure is flat and examples set by the behaviour and actions of top managers are clearly visible to the other employees, as exemplified by the honor code in a university community or in a basketball team. But in large organizations or governments where the tone set from the top is designed to have a cascading effect permeating the entire organization, this is inevitably lost and is reduced to a trickle. It is increasingly ineffective the larger the size of the organization.

Research affirms that the most influential role model for setting ethical standards is the immediate supervisor or manager one reports to. A large organization is likened to a huge pyramid which is supported by many small pyramids stacked in a hierarchical order. Tone from the top refers not just to the person(s) at the top of the large pyramid but at the apex of each small pyramid such as every manager or supervisor in the hierarchy. Therefore the buck not only stops with the person at the very top of the organization but also every manager and supervisor along the way.

The lesson is this: If the leaders at the top of each pyramid lead with integrity and then the right cultural atmosphere in the entire organization will prevail.

Discussions that follow will focus on the steps to establish an ethical culture in the work environment.