Being able to assess the ethical strengths of people in your firm is a matter of both necessity and opportunity. On the necessity side, demonstrating that the firm has a process in place for carrying out and acting on such assessments is required by regulations such as the UK’s Senior Managers and Certification Regime.
On the opportunity side, the firm needs people who can recognise and handle ethical challenges. Being good at this improves responsiveness and reduces ethical risk, and that makes for a better working environment and a more resilient firm.
Value for Individuals Too
While there’s clear value to the insurer from being compliant and resilient, how might assessing someone’s ethical strengths help people working more towards ‘the coal face’? Here are four reasons:
- gives you more insight into how colleagues think and act
- it builds trust within your team
- equips you to ask better questions in appraisals
- gives you a wider and more varied skill set
So what are we looking for then? I’ve chosen five areas that matter…
- their personal views on ethics
- their knowledge of ethics
- the ethical challenges associated with their role
- the ethical culture of the firm
- the ethical challenges that lie ahead
These look to the past, present and future. And they cover both the personal and corporate perspective. So this makes them less about uncovering the ‘right list of ethical issues’ and more about perceptions, motivations and awareness. It is those strengths that will matter most in the long run. In particular, they will matter most in making that all important step from ‘thinking about ethics’, to actually ‘doing ethics’.
About the Person
Ask about whether they’re a person for whom ethics is important:
- what you’re looking for is less whether they say yes or no (although if they said no, that would be informative!) and more about their ability to put that importance into words. Being able to communicate the importance of ethics is key for anyone who has responsibility for others, which means team leader and upwards.
- their answer will probably focus on personal reasons, but it is also important that they make some connection over to their work, for ethics isn’t something that they should leave at home on work days.
Ask about what influences their views on ethics:
- this could be a person (e.g. “I always think of what X would have done”), an institution (e.g. their professional body) or family and friends.
- what is important is to hear where they get their ethical cues from. Are these clear? Are they consistent with the work they’re doing for you?
- they are likely to talk in terms of values, but these are likely to be personal values. You could ask them about the corporate values of your firm – can they recall them? What do they think of them?
Ask about how they reflect these ethical influences in the decisions they take:
- they should be able to express how they make that all important step from ‘being ethical’ to ‘acting ethically’, in terms of the decisions they make at work.
- you could expand this question by asking about how they make sure this happens – how do they remind themselves to take account of the ethical dimension of a difficult decision?
- you could turn the question round and ask them about the advice they would give to someone who approached them for help with the ethical side of a decision.
- you could ask for their views on the hurdles that they face when trying to factor ethics into their decisions. Do they recognise what they may be up against, and do they have ways of dealing with that?
About their Knowledge of Ethics
Ask about any ethics training they’ve undertaken in the last couple of years:
- what topics did it cover and how were those topics chosen?
- did they find it useful, and what was it about the training that made it useful?
- how have they been able to use what they learnt in their day-to-day work?
- this is designed to find out what ethics topics interests them, and the connection between learning and ‘doing’.
Ask for their opinion on making ethics training compulsory for insurance people:
- do they think this is needed in the UK? And what might be the upsides, and the downsides, of making it so?
- this is a question designed to get them talking about a debatable aspect of ethics and insurance, and in so doing, uncover some opinions and views.
- compulsory ethics training for insurance people is common in North America and in several European countries.
About the Ethical Challenges in their Role
Ask about the main ethical issues associated with their line of work:
- does their answer show that they recognise that they will face ethical issues in the work they’re doing?
- how good are they at expressing the nature of those ethical issues and connecting them with key tasks that their role entails?
Ask about how they keep up-to-date on the ethical issues associated with their line of work:
- does their response show a connection with the ethics training questions mentioned earlier?
- does their response show any degree of active enquiry about those ethical issues?
Ask about how they manage those ethical issues as part of their regular responsibilities:
- get them to talk in very practical terms. It’s all well and good ‘knowing’ about them, but ‘doing’ something about them is what really counts.
- does their response point to a personalised response or an organised response? In other words, do they overly rely on their own personal qualities, or do they make use of their skills as a manager?
About the Ethical Culture of the Firm
Ask about their experience of the ethical culture of the firm:
- have they found it supportive or difficult? How well are they able to put this into words?
- one aspect to look out for here is whether they recognise the role that the firm plays in supporting the ethical side of their work.
Ask about the contribution they feel they make to the ethical culture of the firm:
- while it will be interesting to see what contribution they feel they’ve made, it will also be interesting to see the extent to which they realise that making a contribution is part of everyone’s role.
- their response would also point to what they think they’re good at in terms of ethics and decision making.
About the Ethical Challenges that Lie Ahead
Ask about the main ethical challenges that they think the firm could face over the next three years:
- this addresses where they think that performance on ethical issues is going to count. Here they should mention at least one of the ethical challenges that would be typical for the role they have.
- whether they pick the right main issues is perhaps less important than how they talk about challenges and how to address them.
Ask about what they think is driving those ethical challenges:
- recognising where an ethical challenge is coming from, and why, is a key part of understanding how best to respond to it.
- how they respond to this question could point to their views on the merits of those ethical challenges. Do they seem them as an imposed problem, or an opportunity for improved performance?
Ask about the resources they feel are needed for managing those challenges:
- this asks them to voice their expectations about the support the firm would be giving them to meet these ethical challenges. You’d expect to hear references to checks and balances, protocols, training and most importantly, leadership support
- perhaps the one resource they need to mention is leadership support. They should want to know that they have clear and visible support from senior executives on tackling those ethical challenges.
If there is one skill that the firm should look for in the people working for it, it is their ability to communicate knowledge and commitment in relation to ethics and values in insurance. Being able to ‘give voice to values’ is a key skill that anyone with responsibility for people in insurance needs to have. This is because ethical challenges, both present and future, can only be properly addressed by bringing them out into the open and demonstrating leadership in their resolution. If someone is unable to talk about ethics, then their ability to manage the ethical risks associated with their role is in doubt.