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A Publication of WTVP

How does a business or organization train people to make good choices and do the right things in business? That’s not an easy question to answer. As I have noted in previous columns, businesses have spoken and unspoken standards and values. They try to hire people who not only have the skills and knowledge needed for business success, but also people who make good choices and harmonize with the working environment.

It’s pretty rare, however, to find business training programs in ethics. Employees seem to have to learn how to make good decisions in the company or organization. The decisions revolve around use of money and budget priorities, use of time and priorities in scheduling, and use of materials and allocation to business and personal use. Sometimes legal and regulatory changes change the standards by which we work. At other times, executive leadership may present different approaches to doing business. Culturally, people have different standards and priorities for decision- making.

In the end, however, employees need to be educated about the organizational standards and expectations in doing business. Then they have to compare those standards to their personal ethical standards—the standards and “business practices” in their daily lives. Most people can’t articulate their ethical standards and value systems because they have never reflected on their own behavior. Often, ethical challenges surface when a business problem develops or an employee has to make a difficult decision—or when the employee disagrees with business practices.

A multinational company has retained me, along with others, to provide management training in strategic thinking and decision- making with some of their newer employees. It’s interesting to find that the established training curriculum focuses on strategic business planning. That’s important—but there is no section in the training material that deals with ethics as part of making decisions. The manager’s ethical standards and value set have to dovetail with the company’s approach if the employment relationship is going to work.

Interestingly, however, there is no mention of values in the training curriculum. Vision? There’s a section on that topic. Mission? That process is clearly presented as well. Ethics? Values? Standards? Not a word can be found on these topics, and if they exist, they establish the structure for turning vision and mission into business practices. Companies and organizations that integrate clear value systems and behavioral expectations can have a framework to evaluate employee performance and business effectiveness and efficiency.

Companies and organizations need to make ethics and values a part of the management training curriculum for new employees and also as a periodic review for longer-term employees. When faced with tough business decisions or basic, everyday business practices, all employees need to respond in expected ways.

A good resource for ethics training and employee development in Peoria is the Heart of Illinois Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (www.astdhoi.org). The ASTD is a terrific association for people who provide learning programs, a continuous effort in a lot of companies and organizations so that excellence can be achieved in performance and management. I serve on the Heart of Illinois Chapter Board. We offer practical programs in training methods, to be sure, but we also provide value-centered programs to help employee skills and understanding for making good choices.

One of the best approaches to help employees build a stronger ethics and values understanding is to present a case study in which a difficult or challenging work situation is identified and presented. The employees need to develop problem-solving approaches that will bring benefit to the customer or client, but also uphold values and standards that reflect the company’s way of doing business.

In the end, we want all employees to reflect a common approach to doing business, going beyond personal preferences and practices to the defined standards shared by all in the business. Executives should never assume that employees will know in their genes and chromosomes exactly what those standards are. They need periodic tune-ups for consistency in business, and consistency will bring health and often profitability, however the organization defines that word. IBI

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