How to assign roles and responsibilities for managing ethics

Business ethics is not a recent phenomenon, but recent high-profile cases have led to the realization that the effective management of ethics in business is an important function and discipline in every organization, irrespective of its size. Does someone in your organization have a watching brief on matters ethical? Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) certainly will not have the resources to create a specific position, but the following requirements reveal how your organization can embrace the demands of an ethical culture…

1. Insist on the boss’s support.

Even though he or she is unlikely to assume full responsibility for running your organization’s ethics program, the boss/CEO/Chief must be the program’s number-one supporter. The staff

member whose responsibilities include a watching brief on ethical behavior must report directly to the boss. Be assured that if the boss or chief executive isn’t fully behind the program, or fails to walk the talk, then employees invariably notice. And this apparent hypocrisy may cause such cynicism that the organization may be worse off than not having a formal ethics program at all. The boss should announce the program and champion its development and implementation. And clearly, the boss or CEO must set the example by leading in an ethical manner.

It never follows that because you or your organization are not in trouble with the law, then you must be behaving ethically. Similarly, codes of ethical behavior are insufficient if intended only to ensure that policies are legal.

2. Assign responsibility to one person.

One staff member should take ultimate responsibility for managing the ethics program of your organization. This may be a part- of fulltime role, but other people must know who to go to when a need arises. The ethics officer is usually trained about matters of ethics in the workplace, particularly about resolving ethical dilemmas. Ideally, the person will be passionate about this area of responsibility. Commitment by the organization to the officer’s development in the field of business ethics must be evident. This position is becoming increasingly common in larger, more progressive organizations.

3. Establish an ethics committee.

An ethics committee will be an indication of your active support and the committee will, in turn, support the staff member whose responsibility it is to manage the ethics program. If your organization has a Board, the committee could well be established at the Board level and made up of

senior officers or personnel—it’s that important! The key message is that the committee must be able to rely on the support of those at the highest level. The committee’s key roles could include the following:

• to implement and administer an ethics management program;

• to oversee the development and operation of that program;

• to arrange and facilitate the necessary training;

• to support the ethics program manager on matters of policy, procedures, or any other areas of identified need; and

• to help in the resolution of ethical dilemmas.

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