Americans have looked to clergy for moral guidance. People desiring moral clarity seek comfort in their faith — and still do. The last place they look for morality is business.
That may be changing. With the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, companies are exerting their solidarity with students. For example, Delta and United Airlines ended their affinity programs with the N.R.A., a decision that may cost Delta $40 million in tax breaks in their home state of Georgia. Retailers, led by Dick’s Sporting Goods and followed by Wal-Mart, and others are ending the sales of assault rifles, the kind used at Parkland.
Research shows this kind of action is what consumers want. According to a survey conducted by Sprout Social:
66 per cent of consumers want brands to take a stand; and 58 per cent of Millennials want brands they support to invest in causes they care about.
More telling, employees themselves expect higher ethical standards from management. According to a new study of 500 employees conducted by LRN, headed by Dov Seidman: 83 per cent said following the “Golden Rule” enables companies to make better decisions; 62 per cent said managers would do better if they relied upon moral authority; and 59 per cent said organizations would be more successful with challenges if their leadership had more moral authority.
Unfortunately, according to the LRN survey called “The State of Moral Leadership in Business,” employees are not getting what they expect.
Only 23 per cent of employees said managers are moral leaders; just 17% stand up for people who were treated unfairly; and a mere 12% say managers make time to speak to them about why work is meaningful.
At the same time, employees say 60 per cent of employees say that their direct managers ask for or expect loyalty from them.
When it comes to moral authority there is a disconnect between what is expected and what is delivered. So what can managers do to fulfill their employees’ expectations?
First, let’s cover what not to do – preach! Employees don’t want words; they want actions. They also do not expect to have to follow a particular religious creed at work. Just as with the separation of church and state, there is an implied separation in the workplace, especially now with employees of many different (or no) faiths. (There are exceptions within privately held, family-run businesses.)
LRN advocates doing two things: pause to reflect on the situation as a means of connecting with values and second act with humility. The former may be easier than the latter, but it is only with humility that leaders connect more realistically with others. If you act your title, you set up barriers to understanding. If you act as a leader, you open the door to greater understanding.
Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, advises leaders to instill purpose, elevate and inspire individuals and live your values. Very importantly in this report, Seidman challenges leaders to embrace moral challenges as he says, by “constant wrestling with the questions of right and wrong, fairness and justice, and with ethical dilemmas.”
The virtue of this last point is simple: don’t take morality for granted. Every organization will say publicly it is doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong, ethically. But internally there are men and women of power and influence who either assume all is well or ignore obvious problems. And that’s when trouble strikes. Few people go into business to be transgressors, but transgressions occur because people are people and can make poor choices.
Furthermore, avoiding right and wrong is one thing. Deciding between two rights is the tougher choice. Those questions touch on how you do business, what you sell, how you sell and promote it as well as how you recruit, retain and promote employees.
A leader who is vigilant of the behavior of others and importantly holds himself to ethical standards is one that can help, as Seidman says, “build moral muscle.”
Leaders, then as LRN urges, can empower employees to act on their values and build a culture where moral values resonate.