At times when an organisation or community is under pressure, a call for loyalty can bring people together. The result is a sort of cumulative energy that can overcome hurdles and achieve results. And we know that firms can at times call upon that loyalty in this way.
Yet we also know that some calls for loyalty can be destructive. The corporate world has seen cases where executives have used loyalty in order for their people to ignore legal and ethical standards. The returns this generate then produce nice performance bonuses for the executives, but eventual disaster for the firm and its employees’ jobs.
Some firms don’t call upon the loyalty of their people so directly. They may emphasise a business value like teamwork and through that expect loyalty in deeds if not directly in words. Teamwork can of course bring people together in a common endeavour, but it does need to be handled with care. It is a factor in many an ethical dilemma.
What loyalty is often orientated in relation to is this person or that person. Be loyal to me, says the executive. Be loyal to us, says the team manager. It tends to focus people’s minds in too narrow a way. Instead, a firm could emphasise in a more open way.
A Wider Loyalty
So for example, this could mean not just your team, but other teams in the firm. The ‘wider loyalty’ is premised upon the reality that the impact of ‘a call to loyalty’ is invariably wider than just those around you. Misconduct in firms can have ripple effects across all functions, group companies and territories.
Another way of using this concept of a ‘wider loyalty’ is to orientate it not around people, but around principles. And of course, principles can often be found in a firm’s code of ethics and purpose. They can also be found in the firm’s culture, shaped by the people who founded it.
So how can an everyday employee working in insurance make sure that loyalty is something that adds trust rather than erodes it? I think, first and foremost, they need to remember that wider loyalty. When a team manager calls for loyalty, you need to help shape the narrative in that wider sense of loyalty. And when you hear someone being criticised for not being loyal enough, your response can highlight those wider loyalties. For example, all those people whose jobs could be at risk if that call for narrow loyalty escalated.
What you’re doing here is a key aspect of ethical decision making. Often, unethical decisions rely on a narrow focus of time and place. Framing loyalty in this wider way reminds people to weigh something up over a wider time frame, a wider set of people who could be influenced by it.
If some aspect of your work relates to the firm’s code of ethics, think about how you could use a loyalty for principles in your team meetings or training sessions, to widen perspectives and remind people of the ever present bigger picture.