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Walking the Ethical Walk

Lauren Argenti

Image Credit: Hawaii State Ethics Commission

I’m always skeptical of corporate codes of conduct because the terms are usually over-simplified and filled with jargon. “Practice radical transparency,” “create shared value,” or “do what is right, not just what is required.” While I believe that these are all positive ideas, talking the talk does not create an ethical company. Defining ethical standards is absolutely important to start the conversation on this subject, but the cultural integration of these values is difficult and takes much more energy and focus.

These were all of the subjects on the table at a conference I attended last week that was hosted by AECOM and Ethisphere. At the event our own CEO Jen Prosek served on a panel of experts that discussed a number of ethical issues and the unique way in which ethical dilemmas present themselves across varying industries. Jen was the first to argue, “the CCO has to push the envelope to see if the company is walking the walk.” Jen’s anecdotes on the panel only reaffirmed my great decision to come to an organization that prides itself on doing business the right way.

An especially authentic and revitalized presentation was given by Paul Dickard, the VP of External Communications at AECOM, and Susan Frank, AECOM’s General Counsel. As they explained the ethical policy of their corporation, the reason for their recognition as a “World’s Most Ethical Company” by Ethisphere became clear. Dickard laid it out in one simple sentence: “Integrity is the key value.” Integrity for AECOM means fair treatment of employees, clients, managers, and the environments that they work in. They give employees a set of questions that they can ask themselves in a tough situation to try to clarify what the ethical choice might be, such as “How could this action affect others?” Employees take part in ethics workshops every year, but they are also reminded on a day to day basis, through communication with their leadership, about the importance of this subject. It is not a one day workshop, but an ongoing dialogue that is up to the corporate leaders to keep open and engaged.

While I do not believe that there is a specific formula that can be carried out in any situation, I do think that creating a corporation with good values stems from the creation of an ethically based culture. Any employee can sign a form on the first day of the year that says they will comply with a set of rules; but when the conversation on the subject of ethics is kept alive every day – through action – they are much more likely to be willing and active participants of an ethical culture.

What are some effective “ethics in action” situations that you have been involved in? How does your company treat this issue? CJP

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