Doing the Right Thing – Could You?

 ‘Building resistance to misconduct is part of core business.’

Tony Warwick,

Senior Investigator

WA Corruption & Crime Prevention Commission

29 June 2011

What happens when at work you are asked to do something which goes against your core values or ethics? What do you do or say when you are expected to go with the flow but against your own grain?

Standing up to misconduct or unethical ways of behaving at work, was the theme of a recent forum organised by the Corruption & Crime Prevention Commission in Perth. With representatives from local government, academia, and large state institutions like the Police and the Education Department, the forum explored the issue in a candid and practical way with four main points standing out:

  1. Resistance to misconduct is core business – employers need to standardise responses and set up incentives for employees to be able to express themselves
  2. Mechanisms should be build into the change management policy that allow this to be possible
  3. Leaders play a key role in aligning personal values through behaviours and reemphasising the personal at work – what really matters to employees?
  4. Preparation is key – through creating new or using existing programs that tackle this issue in a comprehensive and experiential way

This last point is of particular interest to me – the easy part is to establish policy and standardise responses but the real crunch comes when the individual is face to face with the decision – what will I do about this right now?

According to the Giving Voice to Values program coordinator at the University of Western Australia, Dr David Webb, there are certain common inhibiting arguments that prevent people from making a decision aligned with their values. These can pop up when faced with the dilemma:

  1. ‘Everyone does it’ 
  2. ‘It doesn’t hurt anyone’
  3.  ‘It’s not my responsibility’
  4. ‘I don’t want to hurt my team’.

Dr Webb describes the UWA Business School program, developed by former Harvard academic Dr Mary Gentile, as preparatory. It gives participants an opportunity to script and rehearse possible scenarios they may come up against.

As an organisational transformation consultant, I can vouch for the power of scripting and rehearsal to prepare employees to tackle challenging encounters or address difficult interactions. Changing the culture of an organisation requires new behaviours, amny of which will be unfamiliar and need rehearsing.

While a cognitive understanding is crucial when creating new behaviours, a physical and aesthetic experience is vital for a sustained and effective change to take place.

Other speakers at the seminar included Jonathan Throssell, CEO of Shire of Mundaring, who attributes the low 8% staff turnover at Mundaring to aligning personal values and the real needs of employees to the workplace.  People are not just clogs in a machine and a strong organisational culture supports people in what really matters to them. The leadership of the organisation is responsible for modelling this; for letting employees know that they are able to stand up for what they value.

Tony Flack, from the WA Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit was stern and realistic, ‘…it’s not easy but …managing misconduct should be part of core business…not an add on,’ he said during his presentation on the Police Department’s committed drive to change the organisational culture through incentives and supporting resilience.

Equally frank was Eamon Ryan the Acting Executive Director of the Department of Education, ‘…integrity in decision making is not practised enough’. He reiterated the need for mechanisms and described the Department’s Standards and Integrity Directory created unded the new portfolio.

‘It’s about developing a culture of candour, openness and transparency….what would an organisation look like if each individual was able to give voice to their values when they needed to?’ Dr Webb asked.

How does your organisation measure? Can you voice your values?