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Values and Ethics: Involving Employees

How do you involve employees in developing your organization’s values and ethics framework?

Employee retention and the dwindling supply of ‘talented’ labour are serious challenges for today’s managers. A content and productive workforce takes more than money and unique benefits. Creating a setting where people feel comfortable, safe and equipped to make decisions is often just as important. The development and integration of a values and ethics framework is key to creating this type of setting. The question is how do we do this well?

The “Involvement Continuum”

Rob Mariani
Ascentum Inc.
Developing an effective values and ethics framework requires a commitment to involve and listen to employees in a meaningful way. People want a voice and want to be heard, especially on issues that matter to them. Involving employees can include a range of activities that can be placed on an involvement continuum. Activities that fall at the beginning of this continuum are usually information-based and “passive” since they do not necessarily provide a means to involve people, who can choose to act upon or ignore the information that is provided. Typical examples include the use of websites, brochures, fact sheets and advertisement campaigns.

As we move across the continuum, the level of commitment, both on the part of the employer and the employee, increases. In the middle range, activities such as surveys, questionnaires and interviews include two-way interaction and are typically based on a question and response model. Further along the continuum, participants are offered a true opportunity to consider and explore all facets of the issue and we begin to see a shift from top-of-mind opinion towards informed input. Participation is more consultative. Some examples include focus groups and workshops, deliberative workbooks, and online discussion forums.

At the far end of the continuum, participant interaction, as well as the demands and rewards, are highest. Ideas are shared, assumptions and norms are challenged, and informed decisions are made. Employees must commit greater levels of time and energy. Employers must commit to listening and responding to the input. The focus here is on open, transparent and collaborative processes such as roundtables, advisory groups and deliberative dialogues.

The Approach…and the Challenges

The development of a legitimate values and ethics framework should include activities across the entire continuum. While information-based activities are key to providing a sound basis for informed input, activities that enable meaningful participation and interaction are essential to ensuring that the framework reflects the values of employees across the organization. In other words, for the framework to be internalized by employees, they “must see themselves in it”. Otherwise, it becomes another meaningless management edict.

Of course, there are challenges. As involvement increases so do the level of effort, expectations and commitment to using the input. Inviting employees to consider all sides of a particular issue means presenting them with balanced, unbiased information. Developing this content is not an easy undertaking – particularly in the area of values and ethics where the issues are rarely black and white. Moreover, creating an environment where employees are able to challenge organizational practices and unwritten rules and to collaborate and make informed decisions will, in many cases, require them to act in ways they are not used to or comfortable with. Managers must lead by example and model the desired behaviours. They must also create the conditions for success, encourage, support, and above all manage expectations of employees through this process.

Despite the challenges, the end results will be greater than the sum of the parts. Meaningful employee involvement is key to producing a values and ethics framework that employees will relate to and be inspired by. It will also help increase loyalty and organizational attachment.

A Real Life Example

Following the tabling of Bill C-11 (whistleblowing legislation), the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) engaged its members in a process to better understand the challenges and issues related to values and ethics in the workplace. The innovative approach used a blend of in-person and online tools. Key elements included:

- An expert panel to ensure the accuracy and balance of the approach and information.
- An online consultation with a random sample of PIPSC members, where participants were presented with contextual and factual information before being asked to respond to questions. Members were then given the opportunity to share their experiences and provide recommendations for strengthening workplace values and ethics.
- In-person dialogues held across Canada with a random selection of participants, to probe the key issues identified in the online consultation.

The approach identified the unique ethical dilemmas faced by various professional groups and the impact that poor management practices have on trust in leadership. It also identified the need for more ongoing consultation between managers and employees. This has resulted in a greater emphasis by government departments to include members in the development of codes of conduct.

Rob Mariani is a partner with Ascentum Inc.

Repatriation Planning: When to Begin

Q: At what stage of a global assignment should repatriation planning begin?

Terri Oliver
Resources Inc.
For all the emphasis placed on preparing assignees for their move, precious little is done to prepare for the end of the assignment—the critical moment when a valued employee, armed with expanded skills and new capabilities, returns to home base. Such lack of foresight can prove disastrous; reports indicate that almost half of all expatriates leave their employers within three years of their return, often heading into the arms of a competitor.

Hence, the value of repatriation planning cannot be overestimated. An effective plan often requires mentoring programs and ongoing support throughout the assignment, and should begin as soon as the candidate is chosen, as part of the discussion of his or her career path.

In our experience, companies that assign a mentor for the duration of the assignment enjoy the lowest expatriate turnover rates. The mentor meets with the assignee prior to departure and provides connection throughout the assignment. This not only helps relieve one of the expat’s most common fears—being “out of sight and out of mind”—but can also provide direction for the re-entry plan.

Reverse culture shock can be more challenging than initial culture shock for the very fact that it is never anticipated. The assignee and family expect to pick up where they left off, and it can be jarring to discover just how much a culture can change in a few years. To ease this transition, more and more companies are offering cultural reorientation to families repatriating after a lengthy time abroad.

Of equal importance is helping home country management value the expatriate experience, as the most-cited reasons for assignee turnover are that they feel under-appreciated or lack career plans that take into account the experiences they’ve gained. Provide your managers with a better understanding of the cultural and global business insight the employee has experienced, and how this new-found knowledge can be effectively channeled back into the company.

Terri Lynn Oliver is Client Service Director for Weichert Relocation Resources Inc.


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