SHRM: 3 Ways to Make Your Ethics Training Effective

The best question I received from a participant in my recent Ethics session at #SHRM16 was: “How can we make our ethics training effective?”  After the public presentation, she struck up a conversation sharing that while the company is committed to a culture of ethical action, most of the training is done either by attorney’s (teaching what not to do) or by the training staff that has 3 Ways to Make Ethics Training Effectiveno in-depth knowledge of human behavior.  As a result, she said, “Most of our employees come to think of ethics training as ‘boring!'”  That’s the reason that it’s important to recognize the 3 ways to make your ethics training effective.

Unfortunately, she’s right.  Most ethics training is boring and perceived by so many a necessary evil.  Why?  That’s simple.  Most approach ethics as what to do or (more importantly) what not to do.  Rarely, however, do we approach the most important question – why do good smart people do dumb unethical things?  When you get to the heart of the answer to that question, you get to the core of ethics and ethical behavior.  And the answer is simple if you subscribe to 3 ways to make your ethics training effective.

We all believe we’re ethical…

Till we’re not!  That’s right it is possible, if not likely, that we all have or will make unethical choices in our life.  In fact we likely will do that daily.  Here’s a question:  Would you voluntarily elect to make an unethical choice?  Question two: Do you believe that voluntarily breaking the law is unethical?  Question three: Have you driven on the highway in the past two weeks?  Question Four (bet you can guess this one): Have you exceeded the speed limit by 5 to 10 mph?

You see it’s easy to make unethical choices when they are social acceptable!

3 Ways to Make Your Ethics Training Effective:

  1.  Recognize that all choices come from a place of solving a NEED or perceived NEED.  Example: It’s time for lunch.  I’m hungry.  Got to get back to the office quick.  I should eat healthy, but I don’t have time.  Where should I eat?
  2. When the NEED arises we seek to find an OPPORTUNITY to solve the NEED.  Example: Since I don’t have time to find a place to eat healthy I guess I just need to find a place to eat.  McDonald’s is just around the corner and they are fast.  Guess I should grab a quick bite there.
  3. If a NEED can be met with an OPPORTUNITY, then if that solution is less than optimal, we seek to RATIONALIZE it so we can live with our choice.  Example: One burger from McDonald’s won’t destroy my success in eating healthy…after all I don’t have time and it’s just this one time.

NEED, OPPORTUNITY and RATIONALIZATION are three components that go into every decision and yet we don’t teach or discuss them when most ethics training is done.  So there’s a practical answer to the idea of 3 Ways to Make Your Ethics Training Effective.

  1. Make sure that your training outlines what NEED looks like within your organization and in your employees personal lives.  When life gets out of balance – because of financial issues, health issues or relationship issues – people naturally seek to find balance quickly even if that means making dumb stupid choices.
  2. Identify ways that a person might seek an OPPORTUNITY to solve their need.  If you can remove OPPORTUNITY then, even if a person might be tempted, they will be prohibited from venturing into unethical and potentially illegal territory.
  3. Discuss what RATIONALIZATION looks and sounds like.  If there is one HUGE missing component in most ethics training, it’s forgetting to help people see and hear what moving into unethical territory sounds like.  For example: When you hear someone say, “well that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” – we are treading into territory that could yield some nasty consequences.

Where from here?

Well a 600+ word article won’t be your solution.  But, perhaps a conversation will.  Feel free to reach out and let’s talk about what can be done to create an ethics training program that really moves the needle for your employees or association members.  Likewise, my new Virtual Training program on ethics is scheduled for release in August and that program (a one of a kind training program) has been heralded as transformative when it comes to on-line effective ethics training.  Call me at 828.244.1400 and let’s see what we can do to help keep your people between the ethical lines!



Posted by Chuck Gallagher in ethics training and tagged , , , , , .

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