Ethics and Engagement: Validate Ethical Values to Drive Productivity
Ethical Dilemmas in Daily Work
Imagine an employee who has just completed a project. He tells his manager that although it meets the requirements, it could be top-notch if he had just one more day to work on it. The manager says no, brushes off the idea, says “Thanks for your work,” and issues the next assignment.
A situation such as this presents an ethical dilemma for the manager. Quality is important, particularly for the client who receives the product. But deadlines are important, too; so which takes greater priority?
For an employee who prides himself on quality, compromising quality for deadlines can quickly lead to a lack of engagement. Imagine that this person’s manager gives the same response the next time he asks for additional time to improve the team’s outcome. And what if the next time, and the time after that, the employee gets the same response?
An Ethical Crossroad
If you are the employee, you may feel dismissed or even undervalued. If you are the manager who faces choosing between maintaining the quality standards and meeting the deadline as promised, you likely find yourself at a crossroad.
If every time you’re at this crossroad you can’t make a decision based on what you know your team members value most (in this case, quality), it is important to remember that you have options beyond saying “You can’t have more time, but thanks for your work.”
Let’s assume that in this case, performance is not an issue — that is, the work was technically acceptable, done well, and any obstacles or challenges were handled effectively. If your team prides itself on quality but circumstances beyond your control limit your ability to secure an extended deadline, plan a response that articulates your position and validates their ethical stance: use this as an opportunity to discuss the ethical issue, even though your decision can’t change.
How to Leverage Ethical Values for Engagement and Productivity
Acknowledge quality is a core value: In this example where you simply cannot allow an extended deadline, find a way to acknowledge that quality is a core value of the team. If not every project allows the utmost attention to quality, find projects that allow team members to exercise their commitment to quality. For example, invite the employee to participate in the QA process for other work products.
For an employee who is deeply committed to teamwork but often ends up flying solo on assignments, find at least one project that requires office or departmental coordination and appoint that employee the driver of the project. Look for opportunities that require integrating cross-divisional information, such as business process redesign for a process takes inputs from multiple business units.
Respect Individuals’ Values: Validate your employees’ customer focus and see this as an opportunity to support operational efficiency. Providing an opportunity for team members to work on assignments that speak to their personal values gives you a greater chance that your team members feel connected to and motivated by responsibilities they are assigned.
Leverage individuals’ motivators: Use this as an opportunity to channel valuable energy toward team goals, department objectives or mandates, or even cross-agency priority goals. Consider other responsibilities that may not be as closely related to core duties but may be highly engaging for particular team members based on their individual priorities and ethical values.
Communicate with the whole person: Remember that employees bring to work their skills, knowledge, and ethical values. Having discussions and remaining aware of your employees’ values ensures that their ethical values find a place and can be tapped as a resource for driving engagement and productivity.
This Sounds Great—Where Can I Start?
Where are your best opportunities for conversations about ethics in your organization? A great place to start is with your organization or department’s own values. If you don’t have a core values statement, your mission statement is a great place to start. What does your staff identify with? What other values do they connect with the work that they do?
Ethics is about more than compliance. Applied to every-day decisions in the office, ethics is an effective resource for employee engagement and driving productivity.