What is Ethics Management?

Definition of Ethics Managementethics management

Ethics Management, when done correctly, is a comprehensive program that continuously improves underlying ethics processes (thinking and behavior patterns), not just some high visibility issues and ethics policies.  Many organizations spend enormous sums on training and quality improvement initiatives from TQM and ISO-9000  to Six Sigma, along with countless other programs as well, without ever addressing the leading constraints to quality or performance improvement, which are ethics failures within the operating culture.

After the easy fruit is gleaned from a new technology or process, all that is left to improve is the people themselves.  But people are more than just a collection of skills and capabilities.  People are also a “people system” with a process capability of their own.  This people system is also referred to as the social system or the organizational culture of the firm.  This culture normally is so powerful that it ultimately has more impact than management regarding what, where, and when things get improved.  Hence the key to significant improvement has been and always will be the supportive capability of the culture to manage the improvement. This culture component has a unique relationship to ethics.  It not only benefits from ethics management, but is utterly dependent on it!

Some Specificsethicists

Ethics management, when approached in a quality manner, identifies the ethics needs before training or policy adjustments ever begin. The arbitrary imposition of an ethics policy without regard to the specific ethic’s needs of the organization is considered by many ethicists and social scientists as a very low probability strategy for improving ethics or preventing poor ethics.  Business organizations must go beyond ethics policies and embrace real ethics management at the organizational level, using professional management methodologies, to have any reasonable expectation of improving ethical behavior. Just about anywhere one goes one will find most ethics policies are at best jokes among the employees, and at worst trip wires – or pretexts to shoulder blame. This is generally the result of such an arbitrary approach.

Ethics Management, when done right, accomplishes more than just improving ethical behavior on some issues.  Ethics management addresses the underlying root causes of unethical behavior.  Since things that cause unethical behavior also constrain organizational performance, solving internal ethical issues directly benefits operating performance as well.  Ethics, utility and successful human interaction are closely interrelated.  In fact they are so closely interrelated it may be impossible to consider either one in isolation of the other two. Therefore, in order for any of these factors to improve, they must all improve, and if any do not improve, chances are neither really improved.

How Can You Implement Ethics Management

A common sense question could be asked: “Is it possible to improve ethical behavior and not improve utility and successful human interaction?”  The answer is: “Maybe, but not likely.”  There are instances where there may be an ethical imperative, such as obeying the law, that appears to constrain both utility and the needs of the group.  However, when looked at more closely, unless it is clearly a bad or unjust law, it can be argued that the law protects and prevents social failures, for society at large and for the group, hence the group itself is better off following the law.  Perhaps, in limited cases, in the short run, and without regard to an ongoing social system, this question can be argued successfully at the metaphysical level by highly trained philosophers.  But because most business ethics issues arise in an ongoing social system, it is highly probable that any improvement in ethics will positively affect utility and successful human interaction as well. Therefore, in managing business ethics, the odds bet will be “against” this question.  United (with utility and successful human interaction) -ethics stands- divided it falls.

Our Ethics Quality approach to ethics management seeks to prevent ethical failures by addressing their root causes.  The causes of ethical failures typically are not isolated events (or special causes) as most ethics policies would label them.  Instead they generally are systematic (common cause) failures that arise from patterns of reasoning and behavior that are embedded in individual and organizational routines.  And since operating culture patterns are significantly more powerful and more influential than individual values, the best logical way to permanently fix unethical reasoning is to address it at the operating culture level first, and at the individual level second.  This should be the objective of ethics management.


Our Ethics Quality approach uses diagnostics to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the organization’s ethics system and directs training and corrective action resources precisely to those areas where the needs are the greatest.  By focusing on the organizations needs, and not just on a policy, ethics management removes constraints to performance, creates a more supportive operating culture, and reduces risks of large scale ethics failures in the process.

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