Throughout human history, civilization has evolved to define principles that governments, organizations, and individuals should abide by for the betterment of humankind. From the Magna Carta in 1215 to the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, the trials of the time have influenced culture and therefore set new precedents for ethics.

In the context of business, especially in the interconnected world of the 21st century, both internal and external pressures continue to mold behavior and hold small businesses, non-profits, and corporations alike accountable for their actions. How these organizations operate and react to these societal and industrial forces is the interplay between ethics and culture that determine their moral compass and footprint within the world.

Organizational Ethics

Ethics derives from a branch of philosophy that aspires to characterize and recommend moral principles that govern an individual’s conduct of right and wrong. Organizational ethics set doctrine and standards within the business world so that companies can operate with integrity and virtue. The key is to encourage and empower all persons affiliated with a particular company to feel comfortable that their behavior and decisions are attuned to fairness, compassion, and honor versus nefarious intent, especially in the name of profit.

Business owners and human resources incorporate external criteria to write their code of conduct to communicate and train their employees on ethical standards and expectations. While the majority of companies strive to balance the scales of justice, there is a historical track record of poor behavior in pursuit of monetary objectives. As a result, society sets strict guidelines via laws to reduce ambiguity regarding questionable conduct.

Each employee, whether a CEO, executive, manager, or staff member, must act responsibly towards customers, the environment, and each other regardless of sex, physical appearance, age, or background. Leadership should be clear and concise when communicating these policies and implement protocols to manage violations.

Organizational Culture

Whereas ethics inspire organizations to act in goodwill in lieu of legal repercussions, the company’s tone or organizational culture is observable human behavior fashioned by the values, habits, beliefs, and norms as people operate throughout the workday.

Most organizations operate within the same legal parameters, but culture is unique to each business. It’s ever-evolving, first put into motion by the founding members, and further molded by employees. A positive workplace culture increases productivity and efficiency since it improves collaboration and teamwork, raises morale, and enhances overall job satisfaction. Culture is so vital that during the hiring process, both the prospective candidate and the interview team try to determine if the aspirations and values of each party are in harmony with each other.

There will always be times when the character of an organization is tested. However, if leadership instills a passionate culture grounded in ethics, the success and wellbeing of the organization will triumph as the result of righteous employee behavior and decision making.

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