How to be a whistleblower, management self-analysis and how to cope with religion

Giving voice to values

You have just joined a new firm and are still trying to adjust. It quickly dawns on you that certain practices don’t match up to the company’s stated ethics. It could be the sales team pushing through next-quarter orders early to boost bonuses. Or a senior adviser exaggerating the company’s financial value. Or a minor product fault that is being brushed over. The list is potentially endless.

What do you do? Speak up, the ethics manual tells you. But a host of reasons dissuade you. “I’m too junior.” “I’ll be accused of disloyalty.” “It’s not my responsibility.” “It’s being going on for ages.” Again, the list of excuses is long.

This short, hard-hitting paper provides practical advice to any manager – experienced, as well as new – on how to speak up about ethical misconduct. The solutions are gleaned from the author’s research in social psychology and behavioural economics. Invaluably, the paper also provides insights from real people facing real dilemmas at work.

First, an attitudinal shift is required. Remember, Mary Gentile argues, it’s not just about you. The ramifications of misconduct can – and regularly do – escalate far beyond. The thought also helps depersonalise the issue. Think of an ethical dilemma as any other business matter. A balanced, rationalised argument will go much further than a “self-righteous little speech”.

A series of other helpful pointers follow: challenging rationalisations (“would we be happy if this went public?”), turning newbie status into a benefit (“perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but are you suggesting that we …”) and making the long-term risks more concrete (“what are the risks to me or the firm of not speaking up?”).

One of the most insightful pieces of advice is simple: be yourself. This will come as a relief to many managers. Some may revel in challenging their peers. In such cases, adopting a timid approach to discussing ethics would be disingenuous and probably ineffective. Others may have a more consensual style to management. Initiating a series of conversations to win others over may therefore be wiser.

In addition to this brief paper, readers should familiarise themselves with Gentile’s Giving Voice to Values series – an ideal tool for management training.

“Keeping Your Colleagues Honest” by Mary Gentile, Harvard Business Review, February 2010.

Which sustainability manager are you?

To date, most studies on corporate sustainability have come at the issue from an organisational perspective. Far less has focused on the individual and his or her role as an agent for change. This fascinating paper identifies the psychological drivers that lead people to become sustainability managers and what they seek to achieve through the role.

The paper provides a four-pronged typology of the sustainability manager. The first is the “expert”, typically motivated by engaging with systems, giving expert input and seeking uniqueness through specialisation. Second is the “facilitator”, who enjoys transferring knowledge and skills and developing people. Third comes the “catalyst”, who characteristically looks to initiate change and give strategic direction. The fourth type is the “activist”, who is driven by leaving a legacy of improved conditions in society.

This is more than just an academic exercise. Such a typology can, for instance, explain why some sustainability managers become frustrated. An expert would find it difficult to see their advice not heeded, while a catalyst struggles with the slow implementation of his or her ideas. Determining appropriate incentives, improving individual and team performance, enhancing recruitment and developing better organisational leadership for sustainability represent other practical applications of this perceptive study.

“Corporate Sustainability and the Individual” by Wayne Visser and Andrew Crane, working paper, February 2010.

Doing god

Try as companies may to be as secular as possible, religion can never be totally absent from the commercial environment. Companies based in US counties with high religious adherence are likely to invest conservatively and avoid aggressive reporting, recent research shows. The first half of this paper examines those investment habits in more depth.

Corporate responsibility professionals, however, will be drawn to the paper’s later sections. Here, the authors address the relationship between religious social norms and corporate behaviour. Instrumental stakeholder theory holds that managers should seek to balance the claims of multiple stakeholders. If the theory holds true, more weight should be given to religious groups in markets where religion is stronger.

Contrary to expectations, however, the authors find that companies headquartered in highly religious areas tend to be rated lower for corporate social responsibility. The slide is particularly noticeable in areas of community involvement.

The reasons are complex, but revolve around the preconceived roles of the private and religious sectors. In highly religious areas, managers (be they religious or not) are less inclined to direct company funds to social programmes because they see that as the function of faith-based organisations. Progressive attitudes on issues such as gender diversity or sexuality also conflict with many traditional religious tenets.

“The Influence of Religion on Aggressive Financial Reporting and Corporate Social Responsibility” by Sean McGuire et al, Texas A&M University, working paper, February 2010.

Campus news

Lee University (Cleveland), Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware) and University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) feature among six US universities singled out for the 2009 president’s higher education community service honour roll for services to the community.

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