Dr. Christopher Bauer

Article Summary:

Ethics training can prevent the problem of good people engaging in inappropriate behavior.

Ethics Training - Why Not An Ounce of Prevention?

Solid ethics training is critical in today's business environment. After all, between the legal, financial, and public-relations nightmares such problems can so easily create, the costs of even minor ethics difficulties can be huge. Bigger ethics issues simply incur proportionately ever-bigger costs.

Given, this, it simply takes common sense to commit to investing in ethics training that will reduce the risk of employee ethics problems in the first place (e.g. prevention).

In doing so, it is important to remember that few ethics problems are actually caused by bad or criminally-minded people. Most ethics problems are caused by otherwise good people who get involved in some kind of inappropriate behavior when trying to cope with a pressure or crisis and they don't see the appropriate course of action either clearly or comfortably enough. Even a small amount of training on how to do so will help prevent ethics problems before they have the chance to occur and so can provide huge dividends.

However, do most companies embrace a preventive approach to potential employee ethics problems? Rarely, it turns out. Instead, most say, "Don't worry. If there's a problem we'll find it." Companies have a strong tendency to rely on finding ethics problems after the fact and then attempting to manage the damage. Yet, as is true so often in life, an investment in prevention frequently pays off significantly downstream. In fact, there is research showing that companies with ethics training programs typically incur less than half the internal losses from fraud than do those companies without such training. That's quite a savings!

As for the training that actually gets done when any is done at all, most companies simply bring someone in to teach the ethics code and the corporate code of conduct (maybe Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA if in the U.S.), and perhaps to run through a few case studies. Is all that information helpful? Absolutely! Is it sufficient? Not even close because it completely overlooks the risks each of us as individuals bring into the corporate mix and the ways in which our personal wishes, values, and coping styles can set the scene for ethics problems of all types and magnitudes.

Ethics problems caused by a mismatch between personal issues and the expectations of appropriate work behavior represent the majority of ethics problems by far and include the "good people falling into bad behavior" problems mentioned earlier. The fact is, without the proper training and motivation to do otherwise, each of us is prone to respond to pressures based far more on what is the most comfortable response rather than what is the most appropriate response.

Current approaches to corporate ethics training - when any exist at all - typically focus exclusively on learning the rules and leave out how to effectively monitor and control one's behavior. Consequently, these programs are unfortunately short-sighted, 'penny-wise' and, ultimately, potentially extremely destructive because they create a false sense of security (i.e. "We did our required ethics training by teaching the rules so I guess we must be okay now.")

Without a well-defined and effective initiative pushing the prevention of ethics problems rather than simply learning how to catch them once they've already happened, your company's focus on ethics begins to look a lot like ignoring your car's oil light. If you wait for the light to come on before you do anything to prevent a problem, the damage - often costly or even irreparable damage - has already been done. Similarly, if you wait until your company gets blind-sided by some type of ethics problem rather than doing everything you possibly can to prevent those problems from occurring in the first place, isn't that likely to cost you far more? A well-developed preventive approach simply makes much more sense, fiscally and otherwise.

Christopher Bauer is a licensed psychologist with over twenty-five years of experience as an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant in the field of ethics. He helps companies and associations of all sizes build and maintain top-notch workplace ethics through dynamic keynotes and seminars. Dr. Bauer's latest top-selling book is titled "Better Ethics NOW: How To Avoid The Ethics Disaster You Never Saw Coming (Second Edition)". He also publishes a free "Weekly Ethics Thought" available on his website at Bauer Ethics Seminars.

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