The State of the State Message: America’s Ethical Report Card

Live from the Arctic Circle in suburban Minneapolis, I bring you America’s ethical report card from our businesses in 2013.

With any report we deliver, there are good snippets of data that are promising and others that remain hot spots of trouble.

The good news is that overall misconduct in the workplace has declined by over 20% in the past five years. Looking at historic trends, this is not surprising given the gradual improvement in the U.S. economy.

When our economy is stable or on the upswing, workers are inclined to take less risks.

Companies have been forced to invest in ethical training and compliance, and these programs are contributing to better overall employee conduct.

Additionally, the pressure to take a shortcut that may not be ethical dropped five percent since 2010. 

I talk to a number of executives and any number of former managers, some who claim to have ethical expertise of some kind, regarding their take on America’s progress with our ethical behavior. Many think we are moving in the right direction and making substantial progress.

I disagree with their analysis and metrics pointing to substantial improvement.

According to Ethics Resource Center, in 2013 “workers reports that sixty percent of misconduct involved someone with managerial authority from the supervisory level up to top management. Nearly a quarter of observed deeds involved senior managers.”

Equally disturbing to me is that retaliation against workers reporting misdeeds continues to be a major problem and the needle has hardly moved improvement wise.

The very idea of self-policing then becomes inherently difficult if supervisors, managers, and executives continue to put their own interests ahead of the organization paying them to root out rotten behavior.

It is clear then then that we have much to do in terms of creating morals based cultures where ethical behavior is important as growing businesses. It is a rare thing for an executive leader to declare ethics as important as driving sales.

When I hear that companies have ethics programs in place, I often ask whether this take place 365 days each year or does the organization take an annual ethics survey to see which way the wind is blowing.

Many of these companies just don’t get what the underlying benefits to creating morals based cultures is to their bottom line. We need to get beyond the printed words in codes of conduct documents, mission statements, and value propositions.

Purposeful leadership and deeds will always trump written words. Less discrimination equals less lawsuits. Transparent and honest cultures attract the best candidates to help companies grow.

These organizations are more profitable and retain their employees. 

They develop long and meaningful relationships with suppliers.

They nurture and foster client relationships in ways that forge profitable partnerships.

Morals based cultures have deep ties to the communities they serve and maintain a pay it forward philosophy.

A zero tolerance policy must impose and enforce automatic punishment in order to eliminate undesirable conduct.

The best anecdote and vaccine I know to prevent wrongful behavior is the construction of a moral compass.

When used properly and monitored, it is the first and last defense against unethical conduct taking place. 

We all need one and there are no excuses for not building one. Remember my friends, that faith in a supreme being regardless of religious affiliations provides wonderful groundwork and a foundation to build our moral compasses.

Lastly, do your best every day. No one can demand more or less from any of us.





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