Why Policies Tend to Paper Over the Cracks
I've been talking a bit recently about social media policies. Managers would say how worried they were that employees would say the wrong thing on Facebook or Twitter. They would start bad mouthing their company or their boss in the most public of domains. A social media policy they reasoned would solve the problem in a finely worded stroke.
Such thinking is not limited to social media policies. The Sarbanes Oxley implemented after the collapse of Enron has had a similar effect. Both SOX and your typical social media policy attempt to legislate behavior, and both are flawed in the same way. Companies adhere to SOX because they have to. They often do so as cheaply as they possibly can, concerned that devoting time and attention to SOX takes it away from key business goals such as innovation or profitability. They look to comply on a budget.
Such policies are without doubt well intentioned, and do indeed often provide a basic framework of good practice. What they don't do however is change the culture within an organization. If a company has a tradition for unethical practices or if individuals are pressurized to meet short-term targets then policies will do little but provide an extra hurdle to find a way around.
Instead, building a culture based around trust and transparency is the only real way of ensuring that your organization operates in an ethical manner. If you have a culture of trust and respect then you have a chance.
If your organization has a culture of respect then employees will treat each other with dignity. Managers will actively care about their charges, not just for the profitability they can offer the organization but for the value they bring as human beings. They will foster initiative and creativity. Different opinions will be valued and promoted, regardless of where they originate from in the organization.
Likewise if trust is a cornerstone of your organization, information will be accurate, timely and complete. Employees can share their ideas and concerns openly, with alternatives discussed freely and openly.
If you don't have these basic character traits within the DNA of your organization then no amount of policies will help you to lead a more ethical existence. Make sure you tackle the cause rather than the symptoms.