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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Is Extra Training in Ethics Worth It?

recent ethics lapses could lead you to waste training resources

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

It would not be a huge stretch to say that we have all bumped into some striking examples of "profits before values" quite recently, and over the last couple of years. Whether it is a question of the safety and risk management practices of oil companies, mining companies, mortgage lenders, or some spectacular Ponzi scheme operators, it is safe to say that we can all think of instances in which some company's leadership demonstrated a striking lack of principle in the way they went about their business.

So the topic of ethics is in the air, so to speak, with lots of discussion of "socially responsible" approaches to business. In many organizations, especially the ones who do stick to their values, there is an interest in reinforcing the company's commitment to appropriate business behavior at every level, from the CEO to the lowest paid employee.

And in some of these companies, that interest will be manifested in another layer of training, putting everyone through some kind of course or workshop to make sure they know how to behave themselves on the job.

Most of which, I suspect, will be a waste of time and money and a drain on productivity.

Now, I am not generally opposed to explicit training in ethics for employees. But there are two components to the problem:

  1. Knowing what constitutes ethical behavior, and
  2. Believing that conforming with those standards is important.

The first component is a legitimate training issue. New hires should be taught the key values of the organization, but most of this "how to" training should be focused on areas where details are important. For example, the Human Resources function faces an array of complex issues, and other departments, depending on your industry, may benefit from detailed discussions. Managers and supervisors need some help understanding the role they play in dealing with relations between employees, in fair evaluation and promotion practices, and so on.

But outside of those technical details, the second component, the belief that appropriate behavior truly matters, is not a training issue. It is a management issue.

Think back to your favorite recent examples of companies behaving badly. More ethics training for front line employees in those organizations would have had little impact, because what truly mattered to the company leadership was not what they claimed, in their public and internal statements and documents, as their values.

And if you have been in this business for a while, you know that no amount of training will overcome the rewards and punishments handed out by supervisors and managers, or have the impact of behavior modeled by company leadership.

If your company is pushing for additional ethics or values training for ordinary employees, don't waste resources, especially in this economy. Putting that time, energy, focus, and money into boosting ongoing communications about standards and values through the existing management chain will do infinitely more to reinforce your organization's commitment to socially responsible business behavior.

© 2010 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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