Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ethics "Training" For Organizational Change

Ethics "Training" For Organizational Change

Ethics is not something that lends itself to training. You can train a dog to sit and roll over. You cannot train a person to be decent and do the right thing.

There seems to be a bias in corporate circles toward the word "training" versus "education". My speculation is that training connotes a process at the end of which is a person who is now more capable of performing a certain task or job. This lines up nicely with the notion of ROI: money is spent to train employees and in return the employees are better equipped to do the jobs they've been assigned, or are capable of performing additional tasks within their jobs. One might train an auto mechanic, for example, to rebuild a clutch. The time and money invested in training the mechanic will be recouped by the mechanic's ability now to rebuild clutches for paying customers. Every time the shop bills someone $800 for a clutch job performed by this mechanic, the returns are easy to see and can be measured against the cost of the training. It's pretty simple.

But how do you train someone to be ethical? And, many ask, what will you receive in return?

First, the question of "What will you receive in return?" is slightly misguided. The proper way to phrase it would be "If our people don't behave ethically, what will it cost us?" The implication in the first question is that ethics "training" is a waste of time if it doesn't produce some kind of tangible benefit. If having an employee pool full of decent human beings isn't enough of a benefit, then consider the costs associated with unethical behavior and the business practices that typically accompany it: fraudulent accounting, dubious marketing tactics, customer service functions with an "us-versus-them" bent, theft and embezzlement, waste and abuse of company resources... the list goes on and on. These are all measured in real dollar terms.

How do you train someone to be ethical? Is there a training process a person can undergo, after which they can be "certified" as ethical, and after which no other training is required? Once a mechanic learns to rebuild a clutch, he doesn't need clutch-rebuild training anymore. But the same can't be said of ethics. If we want to do the right things on a regular basis, we must practice. Just as there's no such thing as a perfect cabinet maker or a perfect quarterback, there's no such thing as a perfect person. Some of us are good, some of us are bad, but no matter our current condition, we can always be better. It's the process of improvement, the practicing, that allows us to produce a good cabinet or perform well in the Super Bowl. The same is true of being a good person... practice, practice, practice!

One-and-done "training" seminars are merely a gesture toward building an ethical organizational environment. It's something that needs constant and regular attention, not just drive-by acknowledgement.

John Puckett

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