Nora Akins

Nora T. Akins

Warren Bennis said, "Managers do things right but leaders do the right thing," when comparing the work of managers and leaders in 1989. Bennis' comparison illustrated leaders determine what to do and managers get it done. Today, doing the right thing is more about ethics. Ethics represent our judgment about right and wrong.

Managers and leaders are role models for all employees. Employees are aware of how business decisions are made and what happens to those who violate standards. Managers and leaders are always "on" since social media has eliminated private time.

The Ethics Research Center (ERC) illustrates the benefits of maintaining an ethical workplace. Studies have shown more motivated, productive employees, substantially less misconduct, and greater financial success.

The Great Places to Work Institute compared the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For from 1997 to 2013 and found their annualized stock returns were 11.8 percent compared to 6 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

More companies are recognizing the benefits of an ethical culture and establishing thoughtful and systemic compliance programs. These programs go beyond written standards and associated training. These companies incorporate their ethics in all human resource systems, including new employee selection, job descriptions, performance evaluations, an anonymous process to report violators and methods to discipline and re-train violators.

The most effective ethics training is having employees discuss workplace scenarios. Most business decisions contain an ethical decision. Ethics and codes of conduct limit behavior. At times, company values can interfere with its code of conduct. Employees may feel performance goals are unattainable without compromising ethical standards.

Employees openly discussing such decisions provide practice for the real decisions they will face and can reinforce the company's ethics.

Leaders should discuss ethical decisions and why choices were made. Employees have clear guidance when decisions consistently support the ethics.

The more ethics is discussed, the more employees will feel the power to openly discuss dilemmas and question decisions. This empowerment leads to an ethical, healthy and respectful workplace. A workplace where it is easier to do things right.

An ethical culture promotes employee rights, fair procedures and pay equity, as well as tolerance, compassion, loyalty and honesty in the treatment of employees and customers according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation report. Such a work environment will encourage employees to trust management.

Bennis was right. One of the differences Bennis pointed out was managers rely on control and leaders inspire trust. Every person in management today is required to be a leader.

Nora T. Akins, of Strategic Management, focuses on employer compliance and employee performance by providing management training and refining human resource systems; she can be reached at 873-1735 or

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