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Why You Should Talk about Ethics During Onboarding

At one company recently, a salesperson was dismissed because he let a client pay for a vacation. When asked why he had agreed to do something so dishonest, he answered, “Nobody ever told me it was against company rules.”

And he had a point. Unless you tell your employees what constitutes unethical behavior, how are they supposed to know? And the best time to talk about your company’s ethical norms is during onboarding, when new employees are already absorbing a lot of information about your organization.

What Are Ethics?

As you plan how you will discuss ethics during onboarding, it is helpful to know that there are three parts to ethics . . .

  1. A person who will be acting
  2. Someone who that person will be interacting with
  3. A system of beliefs that person will apply during that interaction

In the case of the salesperson we mentioned above, those three components are: 1) the salesperson; 2) the client who offered the vacation, and; 3) the company policies that the salesperson should have applied.

To put that three-part structure in a personal context, let’s say that you enter an ATM, where you find that someone has left a wallet behind, so instead of pocketing it, you take it to the bank manager. Why do that? Because you are operating according to some kind of belief system. That system could be your religion, a simple belief in the Golden Rule, or any other ethical set of principles you have chosen to live by.

Talking about Company Rules and Values

Onboarding is the time to talk about the ethical beliefs and principles that your company adheres to, and which you expect company employees to observe. It can be helpful to divide those beliefs into a few components:

  • Company beliefs, such as respecting all clients and striving to give them the highest level of customer service
  • Specific rules, such as not taking gifts from any company outsiders or informing a supervisor of any ethical breaches observed

As you discuss those issues, it can be helpful to talk about your company’s history, values, and leaders. Was your company founded by someone who wanted to contribute to your community, for example, or to improve the health or quality of life of your customers? Does your company support charities or causes that your employees should know about?

The more ethical context you can provide, the greater the likelihood that your employees will act according to the highest levels of honesty – and serve as good representatives for your company. And again, the best time to discuss those issues is during the onboarding process.


Creating a Brand with Alex Sanfilippo

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