What does a flashmob and industrial theatre have to do with building ethical organisations? According to some speakers at the 5th annual ethics conference held on 18 May at Gallagher Convention Centre, it is alternative creative approaches that will get the message of the importance of ethical conduct across.
To build an ethical organisation, four key groups of stakeholders need to be persuaded that ethics is good business and needs to be integrated into how an organisation and its partners go about their daily business. Conventional methods of persuasion like training and giving speeches need to be complemented by others that are potentially more impactful, such as singing, humour and industrial theatre.
“When one is building a genuinely ethical organisation, drafting policies and codes is only the first step. Then begins the long business of persuading these four key stakeholder groups—leadership, employees, supply chain partners and industry peers—to buy into ethics,” says Professor Deon Rossouw, CEO of the Ethics Institute of South Africa (EthicsSA), host of the event. Conference delegates were treated to a flashmob and a piece of industrial theatre that showed just how effective alternative interventions could be.
Johan van Zyl, Group CEO at Sanlam argued strongly that the process of building an ethical organisation has to begin at the top, beginning with the board, which has to commit publicly to ethics above the pursuit of short-term profits. Tolerance for deviation from the company’s ethical code has to become less and less the higher up the organisational structure it occurs, Dr Van Zyl said. Building an ethical organisation is first and foremost a top-down process.
As was made clear in a subsequent panel discussion introduced by Professor Shirley Zinn, that while the “tone at the top” is vital, it also needs to become the “tune in the middle”. Ethical standards must become an integral part of how the organisation does business.
Brian Leroni, Group Corporate Affairs Executive at Massmart, made the case for bringing the supply chain on board as well. He noted how deeply a company could be embarrassed—and worse—by the unethical behaviour of members of its supply chain. Some companies who have outsourced all or part of their manufacturing to the Far East have already experienced some of the negative effects of unethical practices by suppliers. However, Leroni emphasised how difficult and lengthy such a process was, and warned that big companies needed to act ethically when undertaking it. Like other stakeholders, suppliers have to be persuaded that ethics make for good business, and not simply bullied into it—in itself an unethical action, after all.
Sabine Dall’Omo, CEO of Siemens South Africa, addressed the fourth group of stakeholders, a company’s industry peers. Collective action is essential particularly in industries in which there are entrenched corrupt practices and, consequently, a dramatically uneven playing field. Dall’Omo shared the hard lessons Siemens itself learned by letting itself become complicit in such practices.
“All the speakers emphasised the need for both creativity and perseverance in persuading these and other stakeholder groups to buy into the organisation’s ethical standards—but they also stressed the benefits to be gained. Being ethical means fewer sleepless nights but, even, more to the point, improved business performance and results,” Professor Rossouw concludes.
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