Creating and sustaining ethical organizational culture
12 Aug 2014 by Alayne Frankson Wallace, UNDP Ethics Advisor
When we speak of organizational culture, we are referring to the way people behave in the workplace, how they go about doing their work and the values that they demonstrate through their actions and decision-making.
Organizational culture passes down from long serving staff to new hires and becomes embedded in how the organization operates. Thus, organizational culture is influenced and impacted not just by written regulations, rules and policies, but also by the unwritten code of ‘how we really do things around here.’
So, the organizational culture can be aligned with its stated values and policies (ethical), or it can be contradictory of those written statements (unethical). Very often, employees will do what they know is rewarded and will avoid doing what they know will be punished.
To create and sustain an ethical organizational culture needs constant communication about the ethical values of the organization and ensuring that the behaviors of all leaders and staff members are aligned with those values. This requires going beyond just the written rules to reaching for the highest aspirational behavior. It means living the principles underpinning the values, even when there is no rule or where the written rule is unclear.
An ethical organizational culture is what guides decision-making when no one is looking; it is what staff will rely on when there is no rule in place to address the dilemma being faced; it is what supports open discussion of difficult situations and it is what sustains trust when information is unclear or facts are not known. An ethical organizational culture builds staff loyalty, fosters a sense of responsibility to deliver results through ethical means as well as to protect the image and reputation of the organization. It also promotes the commitment needed to manage the organization’s most difficult challenges or to adapt to new circumstances.
Here in UNDP, as we work towards fulfilling our 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, we are individually and collectively responsible to nurture and promote an organizational culture of ethics and integrity where we respect and uphold the organization’s values, and where staff are empowered and motivated to deliver stronger and more sustainable development results.