How To Create An Ethical Culture

Pay attention to your organization’s integrity to keep employees engaged and productive–and to avoid lawsuits, says Melissa Maloul, HR leader at Nordis Technologies.

Creating an ethical organizational culture should be HR’s starting place, says Melissa Maloul.

Maloul is senior director of people, operations and culture at Nordis Technologies, a company based in Coral Springs, Florida that offers customer communications management and payments technology. She spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how Nordis values integrity, the importance of getting onboarding right and lessons from Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society.”

When working with the executive team, how do you handle pointing out when decisions, behavior or disagreements could cast doubt on the organization’s integrity or raise corporate liability concerns? Where does shaping an ethical culture begin?

It begins with education, which needs to be centered on looking out for the best interests of the company. It’s important to state that this is not personal criticism but focused on bringing awareness to how decisions, behaviors or disagreements can be perceived.

It’s easy to make the mistake of phrasing your concerns as opinions, so it’s always best to speak to the facts, using statements such as, “We need to be careful not to put ourselves at risk of creating a case for wrongful termination.” You might still encounter pushback, so tapping your HR network, such as an employment lawyer, can help clarify and achieve agreement on the best way forward.

How do you explain to leadership that “culture” is not just offering tools for stress management, parties, snacks and recognition awards for employees? What are some of the underpinnings of a great culture?

Company culture is a newer concept for everyday businesses. So when your company is making the effort and hefty budget to provide activities, perks and recognition, it can seem almost insulting to say, “It’s just not enough” to the people who are approving the fun and signing the checks. But let’s face it: Company games, free lunches and yoga don’t go far enough to make employees feel appreciated or compensated fairly.

Employees are looking to connect personally with their jobs and companies. If they feel their values don’t align with the company, you end up with a troubled culture with free ice cream.

The company’s goals and values need to be communicated clearly and seen to be lived consistently. When someone starts straying from the goals or values, there should be consequences and opportunities for an employee to improve to get back on track. 

What steps should companies take to ensure new employees feel they understand the role they were hired for, what is expected of them, and in what time frame? What are the possible consequences of not taking these actions?

Too often, companies hire new employees to replace those leaving without re-envisioning what the role the role should look like now. You need to invest time and energy on all new hires, but you can improve chances for their success and yours by putting in time to clearly define the role in the job description.

Once hired, the success of the employee will depend on the first few weeks of training. Training should have a well-thought-out strategy, not just meetings with each team member or hours of shadowing employees, which can cause uncomfortable situations while everyone is losing productivity.

Training needs to be a journey that builds over time so that it makes sense. During this time, managers need to observe the new employees to understand their learning style and engage with them in the best way possible. Of course, simply asking someone, “How to do prefer to learn?” can save you the guessing game.

The new employee should be given an outline of their journey with benchmarks to assess how training is going. At each step, there should be an opportunity to give two-way feedback. At the end of 90 days, there should be a more formal, documented review so that both manager and new employee feel there were clear goals set, assess how they were met and communicate future goals.

Without attentive onboarding, frustration and stress is guaranteed. Everything has a process, and those processes help employees feel safe, confident and happy when they perfect them. Structure is key to reducing anxiety and building trust all while reducing the learning curve.

How should companies introduce change to the employees? What can companies do to make change more comfortable and less stressful for those involved?

Companies should design a thoughtful plan that involves employees and anticipates and addresses concerns and objections. Very few people love changes that they didn’t choose to make, sometimes feeling a loss of control or even disrespect. However, more employees are okay with change when they feel they have a say in it or a chance to voice their concerns about the upcoming change.

Take a page from Robin Williams, who as Mr. Keating in the movie “Dead Poets Society” asked the students to stand on top of their desks so that they might see the world in a different way. The strategy should be to get the employees involved, ask for their feedback, respond to the issues raised, tweak the plan where needed and prove that you listened.

Of course, while you can’t please everyone, the goal should be that everyone affected by the change has the chance to use their voice constructively. If everyone is involved with the change strategy, then you will have a team working together feeling empowered and proud to work for your organization.

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