Arlington VA February 18, 2016
Developing, and then maintaining ethical practices in the workplace is not just a matter of announcing expected behaviors and trying to enforce them. People generally do not react well to arm-twisting or threats--instead they leave. if they are valued employees, it is the company or agency that loses, not the employee; who will often quickly find employment elsewhere.
In my mind, there are three perspectives to the answer to this question.
First, You have to have a program in place which defines the vision, ethically and culturally, that the employees know exists, and also know how they are expected to comply. That in itself can be a difficult task. It is more than simply putting up signs with trite slogans or lists of 'You musts...'. it must be clear, in language they understand, communicated to then, along with the importance of compliance, and reinforced periodically to ensure that behavior continues to meet expectations. You do not need a club to enforce expected behavior. What you need is the cooperation of employees, demonstrations that management follows the same rules, and assurance that the rules are enforced equally and fairly.
Second, expected outcomes in terms of behavior must be as important as productivity. Too many firms place more attention on productivity--its impact on the bottom line, and its influence over executives and shareholders. The result all too often is slippage in quality of work--products or services--all designed to overlook 'minor' flaws so that numbers meet expectations. When reduced quality is know by management, but not corrected, employees see that behaviors and expectations are not longer as critical and their work quality level is not important.
Similarly, when employees are criticized for work habits, but supervisors and managers seem to be living under differing rules, employees will eventually expect that they also can live under different rules. When this happens, further slippages will occur, and eventually major problems surface which management had not expected.
Third, behavior needs to be monitored, expectations reinforced, and unacceptable behavior needs to be corrected. There are two sides to this situation. Management should not be seen simply as a punisher; rather, enforcement of values and behaviors should be evenly enforced. Positive reinforcement should accompany good work. it costs nothing but time to tell an employee or a group that their work is well-done. Simple awards, group reinforcement, and sometimes nothing more than a thank you will provide the stimulus for people to work harder, and at a higher quality level.
Conversely, When something does go wrong; when work is shoddy and not up to expected standards, corrective action needs to be taken, privately if possible, but taken in a way that employees understand that bad work is not acceptable. This applies to both lower level personnel and supervisors or managers. Consequences should be clearly outlined and explained to employees with periodic meetings, communications, or counseling sessions. Critical behaviors should be included in evaluation processes and during considerations for pay adjustments.
Creating and then maintaining programs designed to instill ethical, value-based behaviors in the workplace are not done in a vacuum, or informally. The organization must have an organized plan--one which everyone at all levels knows and understands, which is enforced fairly and evenly, and which carries with in the strong support of management at all levels.