Research shows that each year in the UK, one in five employees observe unethical conduct happening around them at work. And only about half of those employees then go on to report their concerns in one way or another. Most firms have whistleblowing policies, but clearly, there remains a reluctance amongst many employees to do something about the unethical conduct they’ve seen.
One way to overcome that reluctance is to make them more familiar with their firm’s values and to strengthen their confidence in putting them to use. There’s a lot of research showing that the more employees have the opportunity to talk about how their firm’s values would work in practice, the more they’re likely to actually put them into practice. In other words, it’s good to talk.
So how can a firm start such discussions? One tried and tested route is through the use of ethical dilemmas in a firm’s training programme. Ethical dilemmas are ideal training material for three reasons:
- they involve practical situations (just the thing that adult learners respond well to);
- they allow employees to use their experience to resolve them (so building engagement);
- they can be tailored to the firm’s particular business needs.
Let’s explore that last point a little more. Here are seven ways in which training through ethical dilemmas can support a firm’s business objectives:
- for signalling to employees that the firm wants them to pay more attention to its corporate values;
- for showing employees how the firm’s corporate values can work in practice;
- for helping employees see beyond compliance based behaviours and consider how they can draw on the firm’s values when faced with difficult situations;
- for encouraging employees to talk about difficult ethical situations and how they might resolve them;
- for preparing a team for dealing with an ethical problem they may be particularly exposed to;
- for helping challenge existing thinking amongst employees about practices that the firm has concerns about;
- for signalling to employees that the firm is aware of the ethical challenges they face and that that the firm wants to help them learn more about how best to resolve to them.
Sometimes the contribution that training through ethical dilemmas makes is direct, such as in support of a firm’s response to a regulator’s thematic review. More commonly perhaps, the contribution is indirect, but often no less significant for being so. For example, being better at responding to ethical dilemmas helps foster a culture of openness within a firm, which in turn has been found to help build a firm’s capacity for innovation. Training with ethical dilemmas sends out many ripples.
So while ethical dilemmas are about ethics and values, they are also about weighing up choices and sharing thoughts and experiences. Once that dialogue gets started, it creates a pattern of talking and listening that can easily be utilised for other business objectives.
So what does an ethical dilemma for use in training look like? I’ve put four of them together in a free ebook called ‘Ethical Dilemmas: a Powerful Training Resource’ – check out the guides page for it. Each is based upon a topical situation in either insurance or financial planning.