The fact that your company has an ethics policy or a social responsibility policy in writing doesn’t guarantee that anyone in your organization — let alone the entire company — will behave ethically and responsibly at all times, or even some of the time.
Though the words are there for everyone to see – in print or electronic text, in a video, or on a giant plaque in the corporate lobby – does that guarantee that those sentiments are being lived out at every moment of every day by everyone? Anyone?
“We will deal with all of our stakeholders –
customers, vendors, shareholders, and employees –
in an ethical and socially responsible manner at all times.”
(sample ethics policy)
Are all of your stakeholders paying attention to your policy? What do they do when there isn’t an ethics policy or when the policy isn’t clear? In other words, what do we do when no one else is looking?
Are your employees made aware of the existence of an ethics policy when they join the organization? Do they buy into it? How do you know? Are you actively monitoring their behavior or taking a big leap of faith?
Are your vendors instructed in the meaning and significance of your policy once they become your partners? What about your shareholders? Do they just want your firm to make more money or do they care about the manner in which you grow your profits?
Look at the sample ethics policy again. Who are “we”? Who are the “employees”? Does the meaning and character of the policy change if “employees” is replaced with “coworkers”?
What about your customers? Do you think they care whether you have a written ethics policy or a statement of social responsibility? Will they care if your company doesn’t behave in an ethical or socially responsible manner?
Are your stakeholders asked to read your policies on their own, when it’s convenient for them? When they get around to reading them, is it sufficient that they click on the check box next to “Yes, I have read the company’s ethics policy”? Or is it important that every stakeholder demonstrates a good understanding of your ethics and social responsibility policies by the way they behave?
Is it a good idea to have a cross-section of stakeholders conduct a review of your ethics and social responsibility policies on a regular and ongoing basis?
How important is it to your organization that everyone knows your policies? Does every stakeholder believe in your policies regarding behavior? Do they all embrace them, share them, and live them?
Or, are your policies simply words and nothing more?