2012 Volume 15 Issue 1

UPDATE: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture

UPDATE: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture

Virtuous Values + Aligned Action + Behavioral Standards/Codes —> Increased Ethical Behavior

The formula I offered for creating and sustaining an ethical workplace culture in 2003 is still valid today. Indeed, virtuous values, actions and behavioral standards/codes can be the basis for an approach to help drive ethical organizational behavior.

Click here to read the original article, “Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture.”

Got Ethics?Since this framework was offered, two relevant topics, “Positive Ethics” and “Positive Deviance” have gained credibility and would be valuable as additional areas to consider when striving to create and sustain an ethical workplace culture. Positive business ethics is the study of what is virtuous and laudable in commercial enterprise. (Note, however, the behavioral ethics literature is preoccupied with studying the drivers and outcomes of unethical behavior and examining negatively deviant action.) Positive deviance, in the context of business ethics, is behavior that falls outside of behavioral standards and norms in the direction of virtuousness. It is extraordinary virtuous behavior.[1][2]

It would be refreshing and valuable for the field of business ethics if more attention were given to Positive Ethics while ways to create and sustain positively deviant ethical behavior are targeted. An aspirational goal is for organizations to display positively deviant ethical behavior that is in alignment with each of the six values covered in my previous article.[3] Figure 1 provides an example of how the virtuous value of “self-control” could be viewed across an ethical behavior deviance continuum.

Figure 1: Self Control: An Ethical Behavior Deviance Continuum

Kerns Figure1 Self Control

With positive ethics and positive deviance in mind, I encourage you to add two items to “The Ethical Behavior Enhancement Checklist” from my previous article (see table below):

  • Examples of extraordinary/positively deviant ethical behaviors are indexed for each virtuous value espoused.
  • We regularly recognize positively deviant ethical behavior across each virtuous value espoused.

While the formula for creating and sustaining an ethical workplace culture previously offered remains a valuable framework, it can be updated to include positive ethics and positive deviance. I encourage you to consider what positively deviant ethical behavior across a set of virtuous values would look like in your organization. Once you have focused on ethical behavior through this positive lens, I recommend that you find practical ways to create and sustain a workplace culture that includes recognizing positively deviant ethical behavior. In short, update your approach with positivity.

Figure 2: The Ethical Behavior Enhancement Checklist

Instructions: For each statement below, on a scale of 1 to 10 (0 being lowest, 10 being highest) rate to what extent the statement is true and/or to what extent you currently practice this behavior. Please be candid since this checklist is self-directed and is intended to help you increase the presence of proactive ethical organizational behavior in your enterprise.

Kerns Ethical Behavior Checklist Updated
*added in update

For more on this topic, click here to read the original article, “Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture.”

[1]Stansbury, J.M. and S. Sonnenshein, “Positive Business Ethics: Grounding and Elaborating a Theory of Good Works,” in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship by Kim S. Cameron and Gretchen M. Spreitzer, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 340-353.

[2]Kerns, C.D., “Promoting and Managing Positivity: A Coaching Approach.” Business Renaissance Quarterly 3, no. 6 (2011).

[3]Kerns, C.D., “Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture: The Values, Attitude, Behavior Chain,” Graziadio Business Review 6, no. 3 (2003). https://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/08/Creating-and-Sustaining-an-Ethical-Workplace-Culture/

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Author of the article
Charles D. Kerns, PhD, MBA
Charles D. Kerns, PhD, MBA, is a professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. He has more than 30 years of business, management, and consulting experience. Through his private consulting firm, Corperformance, he has implemented performance management programs and systems to help companies from many industries maximize their results. Since 1980, he has taught in almost every program in the Graziadio School, first as an adjunct faculty member, then, since 2000, as a member of the full-time faculty. He has also served as the associate dean for Academic Affairs. Dr. Kerns holds a Diplomate, ABPP, in both Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational-Business Consulting Psychology.
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