The Objectives of Business Ethics Training
Convincing your employees to act ethically isn't always easy. Many employees equate ethical behavior with success: If honesty or fairness prevent a successful business deal, the employee's duty is to be dishonest and unfair. If you want your employees to shoot for a higher standard, business ethics training helps.
Even if you tell employees your idea of ethical conduct, it may not take hold without training. Saying you oppose sexual harassment is good, but it may take a few training sessions for your employees to understand what constitutes harassment. Suppose you consider lying to a customer an absolute breach of ethics. Training that involves role-playing an awkward customer conference lets you show your staff how you expect them to behave when the pressure is on.
One standard criticism of ethics training is that you can't make someone behave ethically. John Hooker of Carnegie Mellon University argues, however, that business schools and companies routinely train people in principles of finance, management and organization and expect this to improve their performance. Therefore, there's no reason that good courses in business ethics can't likewise teach employees to practice ethical behavior. The more ethical they become, the more your company, and the community as a whole, will benefit.
Many successful companies such as Enron became discredited or destroyed by unethical and illegal behavior. One objective of a good ethics-training program should be to keep your employees operating within the law. Even if illegal behavior gives an employee an opportunity to boost his career or his income, a solid foundation in ethics can help him refuse. If your company drills into its employees that certain actions are unacceptable as well as illegal, it lowers the chance of a scandal that can damage your business name or lead to lawsuits.
Ethical principles that sound simple in theory can become convoluted in practice. A big customer's demand he never deal with black employees may conflict with your company's nondiscrimination code. An official may threaten to close a perfectly safe building unless you pay him off. Ethics training exercises take the general principles your company values and applies them to the specific situations such as these. That gives your staff preparation for the challenges that may lie ahead.