Now more than ever consumers are interested in the values and integrity of the companies they give their money to. Companies are now incentivized to make their ethical standards clear, allyship known, and intolerance for bad behavior transparent. Since companies have the incentive to align themselves with certain practices that were once outside of the sphere of concern of their industries, there are now new standards businesses must uphold to ensure their success. Due to this new frontier in managing ethical dilemmas, companies run the risk of being accused of exploiting vulnerable demographics, virtue signaling, and just plain old inauthenticity. What many companies fall short in realizing is that the way to build a truly ethical company is not through ad campaigns and Instagram posts but through thoughtful systemic adjustments. 

Here are some ways that your company can manage ethical dilemmas and build a value-based culture:  

Be transparent about your values

This does not mean that every company needs to have a strict political agenda or a 500-page manifesto detailing their initiatives to save the world. However, even the most politically agnostic companies should have clear standards regarding how they treat their employees and customers and how their products affect the world at large. Having a culture that upholds the rights and freedoms of the individual while also critically thinking about its impact on the world is essential to the success of a company and the health of our society. 

Recognize that there can only be so many “bad apples”

If you have thirty apples and twenty-nine of them are “bad,” it might be time to evaluate what’s wrong with your soil or tree. 

Recognize your blind spots

Every company, team, and individual needs to be honest about their bias and blind spots. A complete non-issue for one person could be an ethical or discriminatory nightmare for another person or population. 

Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Does your company actively seek out diverse backgrounds, identities, and strengths for employment? 
  • Does your company place importance on openly discussing its blind spots and bias?
  • Does your company endorse an employee or customer’s right to voice their concerns about projects and products?
  • Does your management think critically about these concerns or are they dismissive?

Ensuring that everyone’s concerns are given a fair trial can be tricky, but investing in this analysis upfront could save a company from irreversible reputational damages and financial losses down the road.  

Have integrity 

Integrity can feel like a buzzword, but in this case, it simply boils down to whether or not a company does what it says it is going to do and, in the event it falls short, how it takes responsibility for those shortcomings. Making mistakes and having integrity are not mutually exclusive. Mistakes are inevitable. The question is whether or not the mistakes made were due to a deliberate moral lapse or normal human error.

Utilize pre-mortems, post-mortems, and retrospectives for product development and project management 

Giving your teams the opportunity to consider the potential problems of a product or initiative and reflect on what went wrong after deployment can glean valuable insight. Not only will this put your team in a position where they can learn from their mistakes, but it can also provide an opportunity to identify potential institutional flaws within a business. If there are recurring problems after many retrospectives and post-mortems, it is likely that the problem is reflective of a larger structural pattern rather than a part of a series of “coincidental” issues. Remember the “bad apples?”

For information on how to execute these different exercises please visit: https://www.atlassian.com/team-playbook/health-monitor

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