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Enhancing Your Ethics in 2019 is as Easy as A-B-C

Janelle Guthrie, APR, Fellow PRSA

Want to take your ethical practice up a notch in 2019? Recent findings indicate it is not only good for our profession, but good for your career as more CEOs place a value on ethics in the workplace.

The PRSA Code of Ethics provides a solid foundation for members seeking to learn about ethics in the workplace—but to take it to the next level, we need to put that knowledge into practice.

For the last six years, I’ve been privileged to serve as a member of the PRSA National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS). In that time, I’ve worked closely with some of the sharpest ethical experts in our field, providing regular information to our chapter ethics officers to help us all hone our ethics skills to serve both our membership and our employers.

In 2018, we welcomed speakers from the Board of Ethics as well as special guests from Ethisphere and Convercent, the leading global provider of modern compliance management software.

As the Puget Sound Chapter Ethics Officer, I’d like to share three important things I learned to help us all inspire more ethical behavior across our enterprises.

Advocate everywhere: As communications professionals, we often have the unique opportunity to reach across our organizations to influence peers in a variety of roles. Whenever possible, we should underscore the importance of a strong code of ethics. Building that foundation will encourage our peers to reach out to us when they are aware of decisions that might put our organizations in an uncomfortable ethical dilemma.

BEPS chair Nance Larsen, APR, Fellow PRSA, recently shared a story about a time when a geologist she worked with had concerns about a decision her company was making. Because Nance had taken the time to share the importance of making ethical and transparent decisions, the geologist felt comfortable coming to her with his concerns. While the decision might not have had devastating effects, Nance and the geologist convinced the company to make a tiny change to be 100 percent ethical anyway.

Build Alliances: As you work to share our ethical values across your organization, you’ll be building alliances you can reach back to when you find yourself facing the uncomfortable challenge of convincing leaders to choose a different, more ethical path. Sometimes in the workplace, you’ll need help when a decision is legal, but not entirely ethical. Dr. Marlene Neill, PhD, APR, shared this valuable tip in her recently published book, Public Relations Ethics: Senior PR Pros Tell Us How to Speak Up and Keep Your Job. Based on interviews with members of the PRSA College of Fellows and other senior PR executives, Neill’s research revealed public relations professionals often found greater success in influencing decisions if they built coalitions across other divisions such as legal and finance.

Create a Culture: Earlier this year, PRSA ethics officers heard from Katie Smith, EVP, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer at Convercent, who shared the importance of building a culture of compliance. Convercent helps organizations reach employees at the point when ethical information is top of mind. For example, as employees land in a foreign country, they receive a text reminding them of the ethics rules around receiving gifts or other benefits from foreign clients. We can apply this idea in our own organizations by looking for “just-in-time” opportunities to infuse ethics education—which relates back to the first tip of “advocating everywhere.”

Ethics education shouldn’t be limited to a once-a-year required on-line training. If we want to build a culture, we should include ethical values in our employee evaluations or in regular staff meetings—just as some companies share regular safety tips. As Dr. Neill shared in a 2016 study, “promoting core values is a way to engage employees and increase their commitment and loyalty to the organization and at the same time encourage ethical decision making.”

Ethics is challenging with lots of gray areas. We won’t always get it right. But, if you want to build your ethical skills, just remember your ABCs and you’re off to a good start!

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