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Drafting and ethical blueprint.

From my experience in small manufacturing environments, there is little discussed, let alone documented, on ethics in the workplace. In most organizations, there are unwritten rules of acceptable behavior at the supervisory level and up, along with written rules of conduct that usually spell out inappropriate behaviors of the rank and file. Too often, the latter is used as a tool to expel poor performers rather than as a mechanism to produce proper and ethical behavior.

Because the need for high levels of production, quality products and contained costs, many foundries look at ethics in terms of those behaviors that prevent or diminish output rather that behaviors that drive prosperity. Policy statements, management tools, technology, JIT, TQM and SPC, as well as personal accountability become driving forces that monitor the process, quality and throughput, but they leave little foundation for congruent behaviors.

Framing ethics into the formula of the bottom line is often left hanging on the coat tails of the last person fired for breach of conduct. Suddenly, the impetus walks out the door with the discharged employee, and we give a collective sigh of relief that our ethical problem is gone, never giving thought to what we may or may not have in place that allows such behavior to exist in the first place.

Pursuing the Need for Change

One obvious way to have employees understand management's expectations and views on ethical behavior is to provide a written policy of what ethical behavior means. Each company should have a document as part of its employee guidelines/handbook. But, the existence of a documented program can not excuse a company from using other cultural development tools to back up the policy.

Frankly, as leaders, we cannot expect written guidelines and policies to replace the essence of true leadership, especially in matters tied to ethical behavior. Leading by example is critical in all areas, but failure to do the right things where. ethics are concerned can damage not only the bottom line and good neighbor status, but also overall company effectiveness. Where would Johnson & Johnson be today if it had handled the Tylenol scare without openness and expediency?

To attack the issue of ethics head-on, we must examine the basic element of how we grow and develop our work force. Look at how you reward behavior in your plants, how you acknowledge the "ethical heroes" of the workplace and how you exemplify sound ethical decision-making. In addition, look at the relationships that extend outside of the production environment.

The Blueprint

The top view of our blueprint calls for a management team that is willing and able to carry ethical behavior beyond the boundaries of corporate documentation. These leaders must exhibit (and expect those who report to them to exhibit) unquestionable behavior under a variety of circumstances, including personal situations.

The side view of our blueprint is to make sure we create a culture with defining principles. Guiding principles should be incorporated into all organizational correspondence and activities-from vision and value statements to meeting agendas. Keep these guiding principles in front of employees at every opportunity to help instill the ideals and behaviors behind the principles.

Knowing that foundry work lends itself to repetition, perhaps it is hard to imagine how we would face a variety of situations on a daily or weekly basis that might require such an exhaustive rhetoric of ethical principles at the operations level. But when we look at quality, environmental and safety issues alone, them are numerous applications.

For example, are ISO or other quality processes being followed? Is all safety equipment being used and in proper working order? By creating a culture where basic principles of ethical conduct are incorporated in daily correspondence and paperwork, it becomes easier to instill good habits.

Additionally, job descriptions and performance appraisals should incorporate sections related to ethical behavior. Spell out areas of potential conflict in a job description to make employees aware of inherent ethical stumbling blocks. Likewise, performance evaluations should reinforce proper behavior.

The end view of this blueprint is to build relationships with all stakeholders that exemplify the behaviors we have established as central to ethical behaviors. Treat suppliers with open and honest dialogue in issues of price, quality and delivery.

Deal with representatives of local, state and national regulatory agencies with openness and honesty. During a recent OSHA inspection, the process was both thorough and expeditious by opening up all records of our health and safety programs. We admitted areas of uncertainty and openly defended items that may have been in question but were not outside of compliance. By dealing in such a manner, the inspection was less adversarial than expected and a sentiment of cooperation and shared interest surrounded the entire process.

The Drawing Board

In examining the issue of building ethics into the culture of an organization, it seems pointless to assign the task of maintaining corporate ethics in one position such as a corporate ethics officer. Most small companies don't have the means for such a position. Typically in small firms all managers wear several hats. From my perspective, it is imperative that all members of the management team assume a pivotal role in the process.

Ethics can drive an organization to prosperity. The challenge is to get to the drawing board to develop your blueprint. Each line of each view can be the defining line between greatness and mediocrity, or worse yet, between success and failure.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:workplace ethics
Author:Bartruff, Larry
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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