Ironically, 5 years ago this month, Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act (“The Ethics Act”). (www.illinois.gov) He is now facing possible removal of office and potentially serious legal consequences for alleged unethical and illegal behavior.
One feature of this Ethics Act is the requirement that all state employees participate in annual ethics training. (www.illinois.gov) The Ethics Act required state employees to take an online ethics test. I have always been a firm opponent of exclusive online ethics training. In my experience, providing nothing but online ethics training, accomplishes the bare minimum. It strives to prove that the organization is compliant by offering ethics training. However, it misses the point. Integrated and ongoing ethics training programs can decrease the odds of unethical behavior.
Online training mostly deals with yes and no answers. How many ethics issues can be answered with a simple yes or no answer? Ethics issues are not that simple and need ongoing study, reflection and implementation for long term effectiveness.
There are so many possibilities, for all budgets in developing impactful ethics training. Organizations that are genuine in their desire to offer ethics training to all employees should seriously consider developing a fully integrated ethics training program.
In my experience for the last 22 years in the ethics training industry, I believe that such ethics training programs should minimally require the following:
1. A comprehensive mission/values statement and/or code of conduct that all employees know and fully understand. (I suggest reviewing and updating these documents every three years.)
2. Communication vehicles that are generally popular among employees (intranet, classes, manuals, staff meetings, email) where messages from executives and/or well respected individuals reinforce the company’s focus on good business ethics, on an ongoing basis. (Not just a one time deal).
3. Training sessions that not only define behavior but apply principles to situations that employees actually face in their business dealings. The use of case studies, interactive activities, decision making strategies and techniques are vital in providing any credible training program.
Have you ever visited a place of business where it appeared that ALL employees ‘got the memo’ to treat each customer with the utmost respect? Customer service first? Integrity and ethics above all? Recently my son-in-law and daughter visited University of Notre Dame’s campus for an orientation for his MBA program. They mentioned to me how pleasantly surprised they were by the overall focus on ethics that all representatives and materials communicated. They were told repeatedly that Notre Dame is synonymous with a high level of integrity. Whether it was the program staff, visiting professors, training manuals, syllabus, building decor….this message came from all directions. My thought was, “how was this communicated to the entire organization?” It obviously appears to the visitor that everyone ‘gets it’ there. What is the result? Notre Dame is widely known for their laser like focus on ethics, attracting and graduating students with a high level of integrity.
What is the culture of your organization? How has it been communicated? By the behavior of the executives? Via email, intranet? By the unwritten ‘rules’? How are messages circulated and communicated in your organization? How do you know what is acceptable behavior and what is not?
At this point, whatever happens to Blagojevich is not the point…when it comes to ethics training and developing a culture of integrity, values and ethics, a well planned, fully integrated training program is best. Think of what now needs to be done to turn around the ‘business as usual’ philosophy from a state rife with corruption charges that includes, according to the Dec. 10. 2008 L.A. Times article, “Of the 10 Illinois governors who have served over the last 50 years, Blagojevich is the fifth to be charged with criminal conduct.” Here is a tip; the answer is not exclusive online ethics training!