It’s not uncommon to come across a corporate initiative on ethics that has lost its momentum. People often talk about a lack of support or insufficient traction. So why does this happen? Here are eight reasons why ethics initiatives can sometimes run out of steam.
Ethics initiatives can sometimes become overly bogged down in policies and processes. Most firms have more than enough of those already, so the prospect of adding in more tends to result in the ethics initiative being labelled as too complicated.
At the same time, there’s a view that once policies and procedures are eventually put in place, then with a bit of training, the job is done. Far from it: not many people change their ways because of an addition to the rule book.
Some ethics initiatives have a time frame of a year or more, yet many of those associated with the initiative know that their firm, the market or their particular role are likely to change in that timescale. As a result, they resist making the adjustments necessary for the ethics initiative to progress.
It can be a demotivator if the ethics initiative is framed in a somewhat ‘pot half empty’ way. This can lead to people holding back from the initiative to avoid being associated with any blame. The ethics initiative may be addressing serious issues, but solving such issues often hinges on cooperation.
Some ethics initiatives often start out with a lot of support from employees, but that popularity then dwindles or fizzles out. A primary reason for this is lack of feedback. Some employees who make an effort never find out what affect it had, so are never sure if it was worthwhile. They then suspect that nothing was likely to really change and so write off the whole process as a bit of a gimmick.
Other ethics initiatives lose momentum because they’re not sufficiently connected into the reality of peoples’ everyday work. They’re conducted on too general a basis, or seek solutions that people can’t understand how to plug into the tasks they undertake on a day by day basis.
Some ethical initiatives run out of steam because the wrong person is put in charge of them. Does the person have the incentive to really tackle a tricky issue, plus the power and person skills to convince people to adjust their conduct?
And finally, some ethical initiatives fail because senior executives send out contradictory signals: for example, ethics is fine, so long as it doesn’t affect revenue streams. This signals more deep seated issues around the firm’s ethical culture.
I’m not saying that configuring your ethics initiative is easy. Dealing as they do with very human characteristics like behaviours and values, they can be pretty tricky at times. So while you may recognise where you need to get to, it’s worth spending time making sure your way of getting there is likely to work.