What does it take to create a better organizational culture? Well, many companies think that employee perks, office décor, and teambuilding exercises are the way to go. But obviously these things are not enough.
When we talk about organizational culture, we are talking about the values, attitudes, and behaviors that define how people in an organization interact with each other and with the outside world. A healthy organizational culture is one that encourages sympathy, transparency, and ethical behavior in general.
You do not need us to tell you that most companies have horrible working environments. Prioritizing profits over people, frequent harassment allegations, disrespectful attitudes, etc.
So, what can organizations do to improve their culture and make it more ethical? Here are a few suggestions:
Every organization should have a set of core values that guide its actions and decisions. These values should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. They should also be communicated to all employees and reinforced regularly.
Ethical changes can help establish a foundation of trust within your organization. When employees see that their company values honesty and integrity, they are more likely to trust their colleagues. Leaders need to set the tone for the rest of the organization. If they prioritize ethical behavior and hold themselves and others accountable, their employees are more likely to do the same.
Be proactive in seeking information and guidance on ethical issues that you encounter in your work. Do not assume that you know everything or that you can figure it out on your own. Ask questions, consult experts, read policies, and seek feedback. But most importantly read some philosophy papers/books on ethics. You simply cannot go far without them.
Get others interested. Which can involve offering assistance when someone is struggling with a project, providing positive feedback and recognition, or simply being a friendly and supportive presence in the workplace. This costs time, but it helps convey where you stand and how.
Employees should feel comfortable speaking up when they see something that does not align with the organizational values. This also helps better establish existing values, as well as understand how they translate into particular decisions.
As an employee you only have so much power, but here, too it is important to encourage others to voice their concerns or express their thoughts. Even when you disagree with them. Especially when you disagree with them. That would establish you as someone who cares about self-expression - within the bounds of reason.
People need to know what more ethical behavior looks like in practice. Providing feedback or advice on topics like diversity and inclusion, harassment prevention, and ethical decision-making can help ensure that everyone is on the same page.
When employees have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the companys success, they are more engaged and motivated. Exceptions apply. Just make sure to recognize and reward whatever behavior you think fits the bill. Even if it is just an acknowledgment. Small actions can go a long way and people like seeing their good work appreciated.
When someone engages in unethical behavior, they must be held accountable. This means taking appropriate disciplinary action, regardless of their position in the organization. Again, if you are an employee there is so much you can do.
But you can (1) speak up. Simple as that. You not letting things slide can help others find their voice, too. (2) Report it to the ethics consultant if your firm has a reliable one - emphasis on reliable. (3) Go public with it, which might include telling the press, posting on social media, etc. (4) Lawyer up or help someone else to. This is scratching the surface but there are at least some options available.
Of course, changing an organizational culture is not easy. It requires long-term commitment and effort from everyone involved. But by taking small steps every day and staying true to the right values, you can make a real difference in the lives of your employees and the success of your organization.
Mostly though no one will care that much. So you might have to force issues here and there, which is a delicate thing to do - considering your job might be on the line. But that justification, multiplied by a tens or hundreds, is precisely what helps build a complacent, ignorant and careless organizational culture.