“PwC Australia under fire for using confidential government information to advise clients, Victorian government under fire for a $1.5 billion contract awarded without tender, Queensland university under fire for mishandling sexual assault allegations, Australian Defence Force under fire for a culture of bullying and harassment, Religious organisations are under fire for covering up child sexual abuse.”
“These are just a few of the articles about scandals in July 2023 from Australian newspapers that are related to leadership, culture, corporate and government, and ethics. These scandals highlight organisations’ and individuals’ need for greater transparency and accountability.” (Source: Bard, Google’s AI).
Every morning when reading the news, there is at least one article about unethical practices in organisations and leadership. So, it seems that ethics is a concept society in general and some organisations and leaders in particular struggle with. I wrote about this topic in the book The Ethical Kaleidoscope a few years ago.
As we delve further into the era of innovation, particularly with the integration of AI and technology, these issues take centre stage and demand urgent attention. In my previous articles, I wrote about how adopting AI requires a substantial shift in leadership style and organisational culture [link], discussed three fundamental categories of AI risks and ethics and argued that leaders must redirect their focus from the processes of AI to leading their teams and organisational culture [link], and introduced the concept of ethical innovation culture [link]. The idea is clear but is not easy to implement.
How to develop and implement a culture of Ethical Innovation
Cultural change programs follow a similar structure. They start with thoroughly diagnosing the organisational DNA (strengths and areas for improvement). Diagnosis is the most critical stage! You get it wrong, and your interventions will not work. Like medicine, if the diagnosis is incorrect, the treatment we get won’t work or could worsen the situation. Following the diagnosis, we develop a change plan and an implement-measure-correct program. The key to success is leadership behaviour. If a change is not led from the top, there is no point in even starting the intervention.
- Assessment of Current Culture– Enlist an external culture, ethics, and innovation specialist to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. The diagnosis process includes interviews and a review of company data to identify strengths and gaps related to ethical innovation.
- Stakeholder Engagement– Gather perspectives from key stakeholders, including employees, leaders, customers, and partners, to gain insights into the current ethical landscape.
- Ethics and Impact Audit– Perform a comprehensive review of past ethical dilemmas, decisions, and outcomes to identify recurring patterns and challenges and their impact.
- Set Clear Goals– Define clear objectives for developing an ethical innovation culture, including specific outcomes and measurable targets. In this stage, leadership must sign on to the goals. Without their buy-in, there is no point in developing the plan.
- Develop the Plan– Outline the steps, resources, and timelines required to foster ethical innovation across the organisation. Yes, we are talking about a good 12-18 months for sustainable change (rather than on-the-surface marketing).
- Allocate Resources– budget, time, team members- must be committed to by the leadership.
- Phased and Measured Approach– Implement the change plan in a phased approach to allow the organisation to learn and adapt as it goes along. Measure the progress and adjust as needed.
- Communication Campaign– launch a comprehensive communication strategy to support the process.
- Training and Development– Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to educate employees and leaders about ethical decision-making, cultural values, and innovative thinking.
- Ethical Leadership Development– Implement programs to develop ethical leadership skills among executives, managers, and team leaders.
- Ethical Role Modelling– Encourage leaders to exemplify the desired ethical behaviour, fostering a culture where employees see ethics in action.
Sustain and Evolve
- Ongoing Assessment– Continuously monitor and evaluate the progress of the ethical innovation culture, identifying areas of success and areas needing improvement.
- Adaptation and Flexibility– Adjust strategies and tactics based on feedback, changing circumstances, and evolving ethical challenges.
Tips and practical ideas you can consider including in the change program:
- Cross-Functional Teams– Create interdisciplinary teams to collaboratively tackle ethical challenges and develop innovative solutions and new processes.
- Ethics discussions– Leaders to have 1:1 with employees, actively seeking feedback and addressing concerns related to ethical innovation.
- Recognition and Rewards– Recognise and reward individuals and teams who actively contribute to building and sustaining an ethical innovation culture.
- Leadership development program
- Ethics training– for all the team members yearly
- New processes– consider introducing ethical guidelines, ethical innovation guidelines, ethical reporting mechanisms, and continuous assessment of ethical practices.
- Review current processes– ensure ethics is in the performance reviews and on the agenda of team meetings, management and Board.
- Learning Culture– Foster an environment where learning from ethical mistakes and successes is encouraged and integrated into the organisational fabric.