Communication That Can Change a Culture

Co-Author David Gebler

I. Why the need for “Straight Talk”?

Building an ethical corporate culture requires more than admonishing employees to do the right thing. Companies need to focus on the specific skills that create a positive and open work environment. From our experience, in most organizations it is poor communication that poses the greatest risk to integrity, while cultures in which employees feel free to raise issues issues tend to be ones that maintain higher levels of integrity. A lack of open communication in an organization can have serious consequences. Confusion and lack of awareness, employee isolation, a drop in productivity, a perceived lack of fairness or potential harassment issues, and fear of retaliation all can result when leaders and managers fail to take appropriate measures to promote transparency and openness in the workplace.

In order to understand how an environment of open communication can motivate employees to comply with organizational values, we need to look at the attitudes underlying ethical conduct. Compliance is usually perceived as obedience to the company code of business conduct, its policies and guidelines. But the degree of an employee’s compliance may depend on many factors.

Studies that have looked at the characteristics of ethical cultures are noting that key behaviors by managers can have a greater impact than merely deploying program elements such as a code of conduct or a helpline.

For example, the Ethics Resource Center’s National Business Ethics Survey has identifi ed types of “ethics related actions” that have an especially great impact on outcomes expected of an ethics program. Actions such as setting a good example, keeping promises and commitments, and supporting others in adhering to ethics standards can have a powerful influence on building an ethical culture.

However, these actions will be difficult to instill in the organization if people do not feel comfortable communicating openly and honestly with each other.

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