COMMENT ON: Ethics and Communication

I have observed over the years that many business difficulties, both internal and external, arise from inadequate communication. Messages can be muddled or not get through at all because we don’t always articulate or write as clearly, or as concisely as we should. We sometimes prefer to communicate in writing when phone call or face-to-face meeting would be far more effective choice, particularly when there is conflict or tension that needs resolving. Business problems of this kind can be easily avoided when people understand how to communicate more successfully.
I believe organisations will enhance employee morale, strengthen relationships with customers and suppliers, and improve profitability when effective communication is coupled with sound ethics.
Cultivation of high levels of ethics in business practice is something every company, no matter its size, should do. At the very foundation of business, ethics is the commitment to treating customers, employees, investors, suppliers, distributors and anyone else involved with one’s organisation with honesty and respect. Ethics must start right at the top with the owner’s values and sense of corporate social responsibility, which are then embraced into every business process, practice and procedure.
Peter Drucker (Management – Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices – 2003) said: “The first responsibility of professional was spelled out clearly, 2500 years ago, in the Hippocratic oath of the Greek physician: primum non nocere – “Above all, not knowingly to do harm.”
I believe Drucker is saying to all modern managers that we have responsibilities to reflect on our proposed actions, to contemplate our words and how we articulate those words, and to ensure we uphold appropriate behaviours that set an example to our colleagues and all those to whom we relate in our work and in our communities.
Many companies are facing some very difficult decisions and the reality of the communication of bad news to their employees. The key to doing this well is preparation. company shows its true values when having to communicate bad news.
Planning is essential in communicating bad news and cannot occur at the last minute. Avoid the ‘grapevine’. Don’t overlook the employees who are seemingly not affected as they too may suffer stress from the “bad” news. It is equally important to ensure that “bad” news is shared with external relationships and media in timely, consistent and coordinated manner.
In preparing for bad-news communication:
• Describe the news in clear and uncomplicated manner.
• Tell the truth. Honesty equals credibility.
• Tell it from the top and make it face to face.
• Do not make promises about the future that may not hold true.
• Explain what the message means and why the action is being taken.
• Explain the rationale behind the action and how the decision will support business continuity.
• Explain how the decision is fair to as many people as possible.
• Ensure and assure that fairness is shown to all affected people.
Ethical communication is the most important requirement for communication effectiveness.
NZIM is dependent on the acceptance by each of our members of code of ethics that requires high standards to be met. Our code of ethics sets out the responsibilities that NZIM members have to the stakeholders of the organisations for which they work, their communities and their own development:
• Responsibilities to those who use our managerial skills (employers). Discharge responsibilities as manager with integrity, not misuse authority or office, and ensure proper disclosure of any financial interest that conflicts with the financial interests of the organisation.
• Responsibilities to the community. Have regard to the interests of society in acting loyally and honestly in carrying out the policies of the organisation. Demonstrate humanity and avoid all discriminatory practices.
• Responsibilities to those who are the object of our managerial skills (public, customers, fellow employees). Not injure directly or indirectly, the professional reputation of others. Respect the confidentiality of information that comes to me in the course of my duties. Ensure the fair and equitable treatment of employees and respect cultural and moral values and the dignity of the individual. Comply with the laws of New Zealand. Make every endeavour to conserve the environment, balancing the rights of future generations with current economic needs.
• Responsibilities to the profession. Behave in such manner as to uphold the standing and reputation of the NZIM.
•Responsibilities to develop self and others. Commit to my personal and others’ ongoing professional development.
Finally, if one should find their organisation in crisis, then how it handles that crisis may determine how it is perceived for many years to come. In 1982 Tylenol (Johnson & Johnson) experienced capsule tampering. CEO, Jim Burke, came out and ‘told it all and told it fast’. Johnson & Johnson’s openness was widely respected and hailed and it maintained its credibility and survived!

Keith Vincent is the ceo of NZIM Southern.

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