Jul 24, 2023 4 min read

How Successful is your Ethics Training?

It’s half way through the year now. Your ethics training has been running for some months. And in the few months before you start thinking about next year’s training, you need to work out how successful this year’s training has been. Yet this is ethics. How do you measure that?

ethics training

It would be easy of course to ask people if they were happy with the ethics training they attended. And you can also measure how many attended, and how webpage impressions for your code of ethics changed as a result. Outputs like these can be interesting of course, but I’d imagine it’s not what your ethics training was really there to deliver.

A properly thought through ethics training programme can deliver many things big and small, but in my opinion, the biggest deliverable has to relate in some way to the ethical challenges faced by your firm. The rest just feels rather secondary.

Focusing on Challenges

What do those ethical challenges look like now that six months have passed? Has the dashboard dial tracking them moved at all?

If your ethics training is expected to deliver more of a progressive or longer term impact, then you need to look elsewhere for that measure of success. The best place for this are the people whose work brings them closest to those ethical challenges. How do they feel about them now? More confident? More supported? Better organised? Or not.

Here are some more suggestions. Do people feel more knowledgeable about those ethical challenges? Or better equipped with the skills to deal with them? Are managers seeing the influence of such skills and knowledge on how their team works in relation to those ethical challenges? Do more people in the team see more colleagues using those skills?

What we’re looking for here are two things: risks and outcomes. These are what ethics training is there to address. This means of course that knowledge of your firm’s ethical risks and the outcomes they generate are the two starting points.

More than Doing the Right Thing

For sure, you’ll know that not all ethics training is centred around risks and outcomes. Instead, some firms like to just deliver a course on ethics that tells its people the right things they need to be doing.

I exited the market for such ‘feel good training’ several years ago, having seen how little help it actually gave people, how little impact it had. Instead, I work with firms that want to understand the ethical challenges their businesses face and want to make change happen. Sure, it’s a longer process, but at the same time, the results are longer lasting. In fact, such training projects entail a lot of preparation, looking upstream and downstream to understand what is happening and why.

One Upstream Hurdle

I once worked with a client that wanted one of its teams to be more confident around making fair decisions. The training only took place after we worked out why they felt unable to do so in the first place. Two hurdles needed unpicking first. One was around how the team manager was performance managed. And the other was around what compliance tracking labelled as correct or not. Without addressing those two things first, I could have talked to this team about fairness until the cows came home and it would not have made an iota of difference.

This points then to some form of force field analysis being a useful thing to undertake at this half way stage. What has been happening to drive forward or slow down the ethics training being provided? And what has been behind these things?

A common one is insufficient (or insufficiently visible) support for such training from the firm’s executive team. Another is the training being too generic or lacking in real life. That’s why storytelling is a key ingredient in ethics training – I use it a lot in the ethical dilemmas I put into assessment packs.

More than Just a Good Person

Let’s focus for a second on that point about how ethics training will struggle if there’s not the right executive support. A key reason for a lack of such support is a leadership team that doesn’t really know how to lead on ethics.

Many of them will of course see themselves as good people and so not in need of any training in something that they feel they’re just naturally good at. The big flaw in that is the grim reality that in corporate settings, most ethical problems emerge not from the actions of ‘bad people’ but from good people making poor decisions.

So a core part of ethics training for executives is to show them how to take a lead on ethics, to go beyond just ‘setting a good example’. Note that I’m not talking about ethical leadership here. I’m talking about a quite different thing, which is leadership on ethics (more here). The former is about a quality of that person’s leadership. The latter is about how they give leadership to an aspect of their business, in this case ethics.

What this amounts to then, is that if your ethics training doesn’t have some training on leadership on ethics running alongside or just ahead of it, then you could face an uphill struggle.

To Sum Up

If your ethics training has been of the ‘this is the right thing we want you to do’, then consider orientating it more towards the ethical challenges your firm is facing.

If your ethics training is showing signs of stalling or getting bogged down, then undertake a review of what it was aiming to deliver and the hurdles has been encountering.

Always remember to listen to the people whose work brings them into closest contact with the ethical challenges your firm is having to deal with.

If you'd like me to take a look at your ethics training, get in touch here.
Duncan Minty
Duncan Minty
Duncan has been researching and writing about ethics in insurance for over 20 years. As a Chartered Insurance Practitioner, he combines market knowledge with a strong and independent radar on ethics.
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