From employee-led activist movements at Amazon and Google to the ongoing data privacy woes among major tech players, ethics has become the cornerstone of not only employee satisfaction but also business success.
In this new paradigm, the C-suite must understand ethics as a competitive advantage, build it into their policies and practices, place a deeper focus on company culture, and measure the impact of their efforts. Especially in a competitive job market, it’s critical for employees to believe they work for a greater purpose and have ethical leaders at the helm. A single slip can damage recruitment efforts and employee retention — and the bottom line.
So, how can company leaders elevate ethical practices across the organization? Ethical leadership starts with a foundation of authentic, transparent communication. Here are three ways leaders can build and maintain their business with ethics at the core.
1. Enforce — and Reinforce — the Mission
Business leaders need to communicate a company’s vision in a way that matters to all employees. Organizational alignment is critical to achieving any company objective, and leaders must be able to answer the “So what?” for every worker in order to help him or her care about the mission and vision. More importantly, employees need to know how their work fits into broader initiatives and how their daily decisions contribute to the company’s goals.
Great leaders bring the mission, vision and goals to life by telling stories that create trust, build connections and deliver meaning. They use short, authentic videos and quick, creative notes and updates to engage with employees — the same ways we consume information in our personal lives. In addition, they know their people have different preferences for how they want to consume news and information based on their type of work, time of day, language and overall interests.
The most effective leaders meet their people where they are, with what they need, in the format they prefer. This approach helps ensure that all employees can unite and rally around the company’s mission, whether they are behind a desk, in the field or on a factory floor.
2. Build Trust to Combat “Digital Water Coolers”
Companies are not immune to “fake news,” rumors and misinformation — which, at work, can be especially damaging, as people’s jobs and livelihood are at stake. Usually, these “digital water coolers” gain influence when there is a lack of trust or a void of authentic, transparent communications from leaders.
Trust is the bedrock of the employer–employee relationship, and strong leaders build trust through direct, two-way communication, so digital water coolers do not become the narrative. In fact, the Ethics & Compliance Initiative’s 2019 “Global Business Ethics Survey” found that employees who work for supervisors with strong leadership skills are more likely to demonstrate trust and accountability themselves. Transparent, honest communication also opens the door to solutions and insights that may not have been possible in a “command and control” environment.
This type of communication is most effective when it is easily understood and internalized. Leaders should ask themselves, “What do I want people to think, feel and do based on this communication?” Then, they can communicate in a way that is more about the receivers — catering to their unique needs, concerns and motivations to build trust and relationships with employees.
3. Provide a Source of Truth
The final component of leading ethically is to provide a source of truth, so every employee in every part of the organization has direct access to the most up-to-date information. Peer-to-peer collaboration and productivity tools are often hailed as an answer to employee engagement, but in reality, they can add distractions or confusion, especially when the goal is delivering critical updates to employees.
According to recent Gallup research, over two-thirds (67%) “of employees say they are sometimes, very often or always burned out at work” — and always-on communication can make burnout worse. Establishing a single source of truth not only empowers workers with the most reliable, need-to-know updates to connect them to the company but can cut also through this noise and alleviate over-inundated, burned-out employees.
Ethical leaders know that actions speak louder than words, so they lead with actions. And, they can effectively deliver on the question, “How can all of our people understand the company mission in a way that makes them feel more connected and compels them to act in a way to drive our company’s vision forward?” The answer to this question can result in a more engaged, aligned employee base that pays dividends in productivity, retention and, ultimately, the bottom line.