10 Signs You Work For An Ethical Organization

“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”

-Benjamin Franklin

You want a great life at home and work. You want to work for an ethical organization, one that you’re proud to be affiliated with. But you recognize that the world around can be a harsh, unforgiving place, often putting great pressure on people to do things that are not right.

You probably hear rationalizations like,

“It’s not personal.”

 “We have to do this to compete.”

“Business is business.”

 “Everybody’s doing it.”

“It wasn’t my call.”

You might be sitting in a meeting, hearing your colleagues discussing a course of action that just doesn’t sound right to you.

Yet you know it’s so much easier not to be some boy-scout-goody-two-shoes who makes a fuss. You know they’ll push back and say, “Come on. We can’t spend all day on this. We have to move on this. Why can’t you just get with the program.” 

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That’s your moment of truth. That’s when your ethical will is tested. That’s when you will realize whether or not you work for an ethical organization. Are you courageous enough to be a “voice of one” who stands up and objects even when it’s hard and there are risks for you?

If you work for an unethical organization, eventually you will be tainted. As a senior exec recently told us, “I either change this behavior in my organization or acknowledge that I endorse it.”  Failing to leave an unethical organization that refuses to change gives tacit approval to the behavior.

Here are ten indicators of whether you work for an ethical and enduring organization

1. Integrity: Integrity (or a related word like character or honesty) is one of the shared values that is a part of day-to-day decision-making.

2. Role Model: Leaders role model ethical behavior, leading by example.

3. Trust: Trust among all stakeholders is high.

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4. Transparency: There is transparency in virtually all information.

5. Casualties: Unethical behavior is not tolerated, even by star performers.

6. Financials: Financial reports and practices are fair (e.g., petty cash not used for personal purposes, asset valuations not manipulated to understate taxes).

7. Environment: The organization works hard to minimize pollution and unsustainable resource consumption.

8. Fairness: People are treated fairly in compensation, recognition, discipline, promotion, and development.

9. Respect: People respect one another.

10. Loyalty: People support decisions without muttering afterward, even after a constructive disagreement.

If your organization fails on several of these indicators, then you have a choice to make: either work constructively inside the organization to change it, or leave. If you don’t, sooner or later you’ll be scratching fleas.


Bob and Gregg Vanourek

Bob and Gregg Vanourek—father and son—are authors of the new book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, which is based on interviews with leaders in sixty-one organizations in eleven countries.

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