Building an Ethics Based Team Culture

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In the functional domains of Procurement and Supply Chain, one of the basic expectations from an employee is to follows the highest standards of ethical behaviour and Integrity.

Unfortunately, this basic expectation sometimes becomes one of the biggest headaches for the CPO and the top management, when the employees are found adopting shortcuts for personal gains.

In many cases, top performers are reported having compromised integrity and found taking financial favours from the vendors or competitors. This causes double trouble for the organisation; firstly, the shock coming from the act and later the departure of the valued Top performer(s).

While you can check a person’s antecedents and qualifications from the documents presented during the interview, it is not at all possible to measure the level of integrity during the interview. You can only form opinions. Practical dealing with employees during the work only can reveal his or her true colours, and this may take some months or years.

Then how to build a team culture based on Ethics and integrity, among the Procurement and Supply Chain team, to ensure the uprightness?

If the employer believes in gifting or bribing the persons in the Customer’s organisation, and wants their own employees to follow the highest standards of ethics, then they are creating double standards.

I am not saying that the two events get linked, but such information is not difficult to get leaked, and the employees start taking the employer’s directive lightly and may choose to make personal gains through unethical means.

Therefore, expecting the highest standards of ethics and integrity from the employees is a double-edged sword for the employer. The employer must be ready to walk the talk when the issue of giving financial favours for making business gains comes up.

In my opinion, the employer should first draft a comprehensive ethics policy for the organisation. Here, all of the aspects of ethics, Integrity and all possible ways of corruption should be taken into account.

The ethics policy should not remain confined to the policy manual of the company. New joining team members must be appraised of the ethics policy and the HOD should have an open discussion with the members to take their views. It may look odd, but the new members can be made to take an oath and sign an undertaking to maintain the highest standards of Ethics and Integrity. Once fully explained, discussed and approved, it is very likely that the employees will follow the policy for their entire career.

Employees must be made to understand during the discussion that the employer is already compensating them for the work done through the payment of remuneration agreed. Now if an employee wants to earn through unethical means, he or she is heading for a breach of trust with the Employer. The trust between the Employee and the Employer is the single bond of strength. If the trust is gone, nothing remains- even the right to continue with the job goes. No Temptation should be strong enough to break this bond of trust.

Integrity is not limited to refusing the Diwali gifting or the bribes; it has much deeper implications in today’s business scenario.

Integrity is defined as – “Consistently behaving and taking decisions in an ethical, trustworthy and fair manner in all spheres of life.”

Integrity is not something you can carry on yourself to show-off. It comes from within and gets reflected in the day-to-day behaviour and dealings of a person.

During the discussions on ethical behaviour and integrity, the team members must be asked to define the virtues they look for in a domestic help while hiring one for their home; or how would they react on finding that the fuel pump operator dispensed only 9 litres of fuel while charging them for 10?

While the employees’ response to such leading question is very obvious, the discussion on these lines prompts the team members to look inward and differentiate between the right and wrong actions.

These days many businesses flourish on the basis of the personal equations between the dealing persons of the respective organisations. While maintaining excellent relationships is welcome, the concerned employee must be explained where to draw a line.

You may ask that an employee must know about all such expectations from his family and from the education background; why the employer must explain all this?

Unfortunately, in our society, the youngsters are not getting such inputs formally from their family seniors or from the Educators. Such issues are taken for granted by all and assumed to be known to everyone. Yet only a very few persons seem to understand fully.

After all, it is your team, your organisation that is going to suffer because of a few rotten apples if you happen to have some on board. The employers must not shy away from sharing written policy information about ethics, values & integrity, and discussing the same at the team forums for reinforcing the same.

Since the Supply Chain and Procurement functions of any organisation are dealing with the vendors, the team members here are more likely to fall prey to temptations. The CSCO or CPO, along with the HR Team, must hold frequent discussion sessions, wherein the senior members need to break the ice to initiate the discussion on seemingly difficult issues.

It would be good to have two sessions per year, depending on the size and location of the team. If the team members are located in different cities or offices, such discussions can be held during the annual or periodic team meetings. It is better to be proactive rather than reactive; you cannot wish to correct or prevent unpleasant incidents after an employee decided to stray.

These days, organisations have multiple training sessions, why not create a ½ day or full day training cum discussion session for the Ethical practices? External professional support can be sought to conduct such sessions.

From my personal experiences, I can say that the team and the organisation stand to gain immensely from such training and discussions focussed on Ethics and Integrity.

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