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Promoting Ethics-Related Actions Through Training (Part One)
By Working Values, Ltd.

February 2007Every company aspires to have an organizational culture based on ethical behavior. But to accomplish this, corporate management must go beyond just telling employees the rules. Managers need to understand their company's culture, paying careful attention to the positive behaviors that support ethical conduct, as well as to the limiting behaviors that can influence employees' decision-making processes and create the risk of ethical violations. To effect organizational change, company leaders must then develop training and other forms of interventions to address both.

In the first part of this two-part article (read part two), we'll examine "Ethics-Related Actions" (ERAs), positive behaviors demonstrated by managers and co-workers, and how a company can use training programs to help embed these behaviors into their cultures.

The 2005 National Business Ethics Survey (NBES), conducted by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) in Washington D.C., identifies three ERAs that have a particularly strong impact on the success of corporate ethics programs. These behaviors are:

  • Setting a good example
  • Keeping promises and commitments
  • Supporting others in adhering to ethics standards

An important implication of these findings is that companies must offer their managers the training and resources to make these ERAs a regular part of their leadership, and employees a chance to make these behaviors a conscious part of their conduct at work.

While many companies provide ethics training programs to their employees, most such programs focus on rules of conduct, rather than on encouraging the positive behaviors that embody these rules. When ethics training specifically addresses ERAs and other positive behaviors, it provides employees a more concrete understanding of the company's expectations of them with respect to ethical conduct.

For maximum effectiveness, training should be targeted to each level of the organization and should reflect the responsibilities related directly to that level's function. While training for boards of directors and senior leaders should focus on vision and leadership, programs for managers need to focus on transparency and setting the tone in their work environment. Leadership and management training must also address the most prevalent limiting behavior and the greatest risk to an ethical culture -- fear of retaliation. 

Employees need direct training on their decision-making processes and the ways in which pressures and temptations might influence their behavior.  Case-based training and activities help employees recognize the ethics risks in particular situations and see how ERAs could impact the outcome of these situations.

For example, if the desired behavior is keeping promises and commitments, a training activity may focus on:

  • accountability for decisions and actions;
  • the value of honest timely feedback; and
  • ways to be consistent and fair in the application and demonstration of rules. 

The value of setting a good example can be communicated in cases dramatizing the results of "walking the talk" and the consequences of inconsistent enforcement of the rules. Supporting others in adhering to ethics standards is taught by demonstrating respect for all viewpoints (even contradictory ones!), transparent decision-making and emphasizing the benefits of open communication.

Finally, providing systematic follow up after the deployment of training is a critical element in effecting behavioral change. For example, a post-training evaluation, deployed several months after the training, can help measure the extent to which  the positive behaviors emphasized in the training continue to be practiced; this type of follow up also helps managers and employees remain aware of the importance the organization places on ethical conduct in the workplace.

In part two of this article we will look at the limiting behaviors that create risk and the ways in which an organization can manage them.

WORKING VALUES LTD. is a business ethics and training company. Through a variety of products and services, including Web-based compliance and ethics programs, on-site training, video and award-winning ethics games for employees, Working Values aims to align employee behavior with company values. For more information as to how Working Values can narrow your company's Behavior-Standards Gap, visit or contact For news on ethics in the workplace, visit SmartPros Ethics & Compliance.

2007 SmartPros Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint requests email

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