Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility can’t only be the duty of people at the top of an organization but of every of its member. In the complex world we are living in, good intentions and bold ambitions are not enough, they need to be accompanied by day-to-day choices that people at the top can’t possible all make. It’s the aggregation of all these choices, big and small, that only can change the course of an organization for the better.
However, not all employees have the opportunity or the time to get the whole picture and make informed day-to-day ethical decisions. Building empathy with people inside and outside their organization takes time. Some fights such as against global warming and social discriminations require a constant questioning of their habits. How can employees find the time?
Lean innovation techniques practiced in the digital industry and that focus on interaction between small development teams and the people using their products are a step in the right direction: they embed in the innovation process the action to meet users and understand what the real impact of their work is. The approach whereby all engineering tasks are defined beforehand by analysts and business owners, without any opportunity for the team to participate and find meaning in their work, is neither right nor effective. It prolongs time to market, demotivates employees and results in bad decision-making.
Most digital companies apply these techniques. But they need to go further: encounters with users should not be reduced to data gathering but be rooted in a spirit of dialogue where employees are encouraged to do more than simply create or enhance a product or service, but to feel sympathy for the people they meet and find lasting and fair solutions to their problems. These meetings with users and customers should not only be encouraged in digital companies but in every industry in order to keep employees motivated, encourage innovation and maintain the ethical bond between the people within large organizations and the people they serve.
Complementary to these meetings is the opportunity to broaden the scope of continuous improvement activities: make continuous improvement not only a matter of efficiency and product quality but also of ethics. Take for instance team retrospectives, a regular continuous improvement workshop used in software development, and imagine what it could look like if it was used not only for team members to improve the way they work, but also make more good within and outside their team and organization. The regular practice would encourage teams to reflect not only on what does and does not work in their day-to-day dealings, but also about what is good or bad, positive or negative to pursue.
Ethics and corporate social responsibility can’t be add-ons to your regular business activities. They take time, they require focus and need to be embedded in your way of doing things. Meetings with customers and team retrospectives are two examples of business processes that can be broaden and provide regular opportunities for teams to embed ethics and social responsibility into everything they do. Could this be applied in your organization? And if not, what are the opportunities to embed ethics into everything you do?