Episode 265: Why We Need More Ethics as Business Leaders
Jessica Miller-Merrell | Podcast| By
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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 265: Why We Need More Ethics as Business Leaders with Joanna Bauer (@JoannaBauer) and Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry (@LynnBowes-Sperry)
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26:14] Ethics is part of core HR practices when managing daily employee interactions and organizational goals. HRCI recertification does require now dedicated ethics credits, which is why it’s important to consider how to fulfill your HR ethics credits. Having a participatory course that allows discussion time is ideal for understanding how ethics and leadership specifically impacts purpose, values, and principles, and how we make decisions based on shared goals. In this special episode of the Workology podcast, I spoke with two experts in the areas of ethics. They have decades of experience in business ethics and I wanted to get an idea of what we need to focus on, not just for certification, but to give you some insights into how to be a better H.R. leader, as well as give you a little taste of the type of resources we have available on our Upskill HR membership powered by Workology. Joanna Bauer is an associate vice president of academic affairs from Claremont Lincoln University. Joanna has educated people on organizational leadership topics, online and in-person for almost 20 years. Joanna shares how companies can create a framework for their business leaders to use as guidance for ethical decision-making. Joanna, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Joanna Bauer: [00:01:51:12] Thank you, Jessica. I’m very happy to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:54:24] Let’s talk about your background. You’ve taught online and in-person for almost 20 years, and that led you to educating others on organizational leadership. Can you talk a little bit about your career path?
Joanna Bauer: [00:02:07:12] Absolutely. This is a fun question. My trajectory started in marketing where I started facilitating focus groups. I loved that job because I’ve always been interested in the psychology of decision making. What makes people tick? What’s their motivation? What prompts people to decide on one course of action instead of another in terms of ethics and decision-making, and from this, I moved into other marketing roles and then facilitating professional training on subjects such as communication, culture, teamwork, critical thinking, those kinds of leadership topics. And then that morphed into teaching at an academic level. And again, my interest in ethical decision making, other key themes of interpersonal, intercultural, organizational communication that all came into play there. And then I moved to focus on what are the skills needed to be an effective and ethical leader in our ever-changing world, particularly important now and so now I continue that interest in how leaders can face difficult situations, but still maintain that north star of that ethical standpoint. And to do this, I believe, has to be largely based on collaboration, making valid, data-driven decisions.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:25:17] I love that you are focused on the area of ethics in leadership because I feel like this is something that as HR leaders we need. But we also need to think about this for our own leaders and organizations. So I wanted to ask you about mindful ethics. I like mindful ethics because it’s about self-reflection and it’s an important part of soft skills building and training. Can you talk about the link between mindfulness and ethics for me?
Joanna Bauer: [00:03:52:23] Absolutely. For me, the foundation of ethics is mindfulness. That really is truly what it is. At CLY, we teach the Clairemont core and their their four domains of that, starting with mindfulness, which, as you said, is self-refectory and built on self-awareness. The first element to this is to maintain those ethical standards both within self in and out, and mindfulness comes into play. Define what those ethical standards are. To think and act ethically means to ask important questions of ourselves and others and gain awareness from that. These questions can be what are my biases? What are my blind spots, what are my assumptions, what’s my agenda? And my approaching this from an ego-driven or a collaborative mindset? Am I approaching this from an ethical framework? The all of this is mindful practice, and it means being comfortable with that process, with decisions based on mindful principles and really embodying those skills. It also means being a role model of mindfulness and encouraging others around you to do the same. And in that way, we can create a culture of ethical decision-making throughout an organization, which I think is the key goal.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:08:18] I think we need more ethical decision-making just in general in our lives, considering all the craziness that we’re experiencing.
Joanna Bauer: [00:05:16:13] Yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:18:17] Aside from simply doing the right thing, it’s important that companies create a framework for their business leaders to use as a guidance for this ethical decision making. I wanted to ask you for H.R. professionals, how do we get started helping them do that?
Joanna Bauer: [00:05:33:15] Yeah, this is a good question. When I was a consultant for organizations, some of the first questions I would ask would be about the mission, the mission, the vision, the culture of the organizations. And often I didn’t get clear answers. These were clearly defined other than maybe a mission statement or something like that. If these aren’t clearly defined by everyone in the organization, there’s an issue because to achieve any goal, people can’t work towards that goal. If it’s not defined, if we don’t all agree on it, if we don’t effectively communicate it to all stakeholders, and then there has to be buy-in of those of those stakeholders. So H.R. professionals should work with leadership to create and implement that collaborative process. Where how do we define our mission? How do we define our vision? How is that created? And of course, that includes the bottom line foundation of ethical stance. And this can go a long way to not only create an ethical framework for the organization but making sure it’s implemented long term and that all members are carrying out that ethical framework. And then the other element that’s the purview of H.R. is that long-term ongoing professional development on maintaining the ethical stance and that ethical framework throughout the organization.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:52:22] We want to support our company leaders and I think a lot of times they may not have the best clarity on workplace, workplace ethics. What is the best approach to begin doing this, do you think?
Joanna Bauer: [00:07:06:03] Yeah, one way, one thing that I learned in my many years of teaching is that it’s so important to name what we’re doing and then repeat it. Often in marketing, there’s the thought that it takes at least nine exposures to a concept, to a theme, or a brand nine exposures in order for someone to even pay attention, and then at least 15 exposures for it to start to sink in to start gaining some awareness. So, of course, that’s why we see the same ads over and over. But we also know this to be the case in academics, where we scaffold course concepts and repeat them in many different forms throughout the program. And but what we find even then is that a student can take a complete course in something such as ethical concepts in theory. But when asked at the end of the program if they had exposure to those theories, to those concepts, many times they’ll say no, they just won’t remember. So that’s what I mean by naming the concepts and defining them within the organization. So people know they’re aware, it’s named. This is our ethical framework. And I think it’s really important to not dance around the subject of ethics but to embrace it, to define it, to name it, to say we as an organization value ethical decision-making. And here’s what that means to us. And then most importantly, apply it. Provide specific case studies or scenario playing, or role-playing to educate all the stakeholders, what that ethical organizational framework looks like, and then how to apply it in all those diverse contexts.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:40:19] I just keep thinking about you say that it’s going to take nine or 15 times for something to sink in.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:48:00] So I think this is a great reminder because sometimes I think in H.R. we feel like we’re beating a dead horse or we we’ve said it enough times. But based on what you’re saying is that we need to continue to reinforce the message over and over and over again, but maybe in different ways.
Joanna Bauer: [00:09:07:21] That’s right. Yep. And apply it, make sure they know how to apply.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:12:04] Do you recommend in that maybe you do some role-playing in different situations or what’s the best practice for something like that?
Joanna Bauer: [00:09:19:02] Yeah, that really is. So two things that we really suggest is case studies. So going through specific case studies that can happen specifically in H.R. and organizational leadership and just really working through analyzing these case studies, collaborating on with different options can be and things like that. And then, of course, role-playing, as you said, is so important because theoretically, I can understand what I need to do. But how do I actually say the words how to what do I act? What are my nonverbal? All of that really needs to come into play with the application.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:54:13] I think it’s really important to because in that role-playing, you might experience a situation that’s not ethical. Right. And so how do you address it? How do you approach it? What things do you say to a boss or a peer? Or another person in the workplace to explain to them that this isn’t the way it should be and how do we how do we not offend them or make them angry or have it blow up in our faces?
Joanna Bauer: [00:10:21:07] Right. And that’s that that’s the big thing. Now, with diversity, equity, inclusion, we have to be really, really cognizant of those elements as well. So it’s all yeah. It just really means the application piece.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:33:20] You talked a little earlier about ethics in terms of purpose, value and principles to and we need to have a shared set of goals. Can you talk a little bit more about maybe the approach to this and what HR leaders or business leaders can do?
Joanna Bauer: [00:10:48:23] Yes, this is a really important question. And we do need to approach ethics from purpose, values and principles. This, the dilemma is whose purpose, values, and principles. And that can be the the dilemma. So, again, a clear understanding of what that means with the mission of the organization is how it converges or diverges from your own, perhaps. And that’s where the ethical framework is derived. This is where data can be useful when there are questions as to who is affected, to what extent, and why, because we do need to understand the full context of the situation and really gain those insights, collaborate with others to have a diversity of voices and so on. And then that’s really the only way we’re going to work towards shared goals because we need to analyze possible solutions. As we as you just said, there could be unethical situations that come up. And so we really need to understand why different options would work or not. And and then what are those ramifications? And the ethical dilemmas are not created in a silo. They’re they’re sticky. They’re complicated. There’s all kinds of things that can happen with them. So that means we don’t we shouldn’t address them in a silo. There’s always farther-reaching consequences to decisions. And often, as much as we want to, as much as we look at the data, we we have conversations and so on. We can’t really plan for those consequences often. So that means having a decision that’s not based on one person’s perspective, because we know that can be skewed, but on the perspectives of many, on the perspectives of different voices and once again, creating that community and trust so that we can really focus on our purpose, our values, and our principles, that positive organizational culture.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:45:00] I just want to reinforce what you said, because I don’t think everybody necessarily puts these pieces together. We’re talking about ethics, but you just meant you just said diversity and inclusion. Those don’t normally those are normally separate things in my mind. But you were saying that these are these are things that need to be working together.
Joanna Bauer: [00:13:04:07] Oh, absolutely. Because if you’re going to have an organizational ethical framework, that is a key issue, especially in H.R., we have to really understand where are our diversity blinders, where are we not being diverse? Where are we not being equitable? Where are we not including voices? And so that is really needs to be in that foundation of our ethical framework.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:28:09] I’m glad you’re talking about this, because I think for most of us, when people think of ethics in the HR space, we think about whistleblowing activities and those sort of things, not necessarily the DNI conversation, which is why I’m asking the question, because we’re not talking about compliance. We’re talking about diversity and inclusion and ethical decision making, which are two very different things.
Joanna Bauer: [00:13:50:12] Very different, but all lead to that community of trust, which we have to have in order to have what I like to call a positive organizational culture.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:01:00] Your program has a self-paced professional certificate to develop critical perspectives and collaborative skills in leadership. Can you talk a little bit about the Clairemont core with us?
Joanna Bauer: [00:14:12:11] Yes, absolutely. Love to. The Claremont Core is our proprietary structure of leadership skills, and we use it as a foundation for all of our curricula. It’s based on our mission of educating social change makers and we thread the core domains and concept throughout all our programs, including our HR program. We have a SHRM prep certificate and as you mentioned, we also offer a professional leadership certificate in the core itself. So the Claremont core is a set of four domains: mindfulness, dialogue, collaboration, and change. And each is included because those are the needed and necessary skills of leadership. So structured in that way, because as we talked about earlier, mindfulness is necessary for individual self-awareness and discovery. So that’s the individual self. Then we need to build on those skills for dialoguing and bringing in someone else. And very important in that is included active listening. We have to be active listeners. So then we build on that for collaboration and the skills needed to be an effective team member, solving conflict, and then for organizational productivity, we need to drive that while building community and and then that’s all important to organizational health. And then all of these skills are combined because they’re needed for social change. So that’s the global piece. The way we look at it is we go from individual to dual to team to global.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:35:03] Ok, I’m just taking a pause here. Do we want to do you want to talk about I mean, I feel like might be my next question might be, is this something just for H.R.? Can managers go through this training? And then, like you said, it’s self-paced, but how long does it normally take to be able to to work through something like this? Are those maybe some fair questions?
Joanna Bauer: [00:16:00:04] Yeah, we’ll talk about that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:01:23] I’m also just curious as well. So, yeah, this is me more likely ask the question.
Joanna Bauer: [00:16:07:10] Well, it’s just to give you an overview. We actually have two of these certificates. One of them is facilitated that that it’s six weeks and that’s a facilitated version. And people really like that version because it keeps them on track and it gives them peer-to-peer collaboration. But then we have the self-paced version, which is six modules. You can be six weeks, it can be six hours. It’s whatever the individual person wants to put into it. And so usually what it usually takes are our folks that go through is about two weeks and they put in about between 15 and 20 hours into it. And so again, it really just depends on how much they really work through all the different elements and do all the reading and videos and so forth.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:54:11] So the Claremont core, I feel like, is different than what we think about traditional ethics and leadership. You’re talking about the different programs, the self-paced or the more six-week program. How else is it? Is it different than if I went through an ethics course somewhere else?
Joanna Bauer: [00:17:13:20] Right. Well, we know traditional ethics can seem sometimes static, as if there’s one right answer or one right approach. And then addition, it can be challenging to navigate through theory aspects to application. So we talked about earlier how important application is to really understand. So we, we really, really focused on application for that decision-making. So in essence, someone can understand in theory what to do. But then when faced with a real situation, as we talked about earlier, maybe the context doesn’t fit within the theoretical parameters. And so that’s what’s different for us. With us the Claremont core, we intentionally work and we demystify the application of ethics along with the application of other leadership skills. So ethics is just one of those skills that we touch on. And our CLU core undergirds the ability of leaders to contextualize ethical dilemmas. And then what is their response for that most effective solution under any circumstances? And again, because that application is what’s really important. We focus on the application and then the additional element to that, that’s really important for us is we focus on building and maintaining relationships, adding that trust, that kindness, that compassion, and making sure that we’re working towards a positive community.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:39:19] I love this and I love these are skills that anybody can use and apply personally and professionally. So you work through a program like yours. These are things that you can use outside of work and help continue to build that trust in those relationships with your family, people in your community or wherever you go, or whatever you do.
Joanna Bauer: [00:19:01:15] And that’s what we really want to focus on, because, again, our mission is social change. And so educating the social change makers and one of the things we like to say is the multiplier effect. So we educate this particular student, but then that particular student goes out into their community, into their professional relationships, and so on. And so we really like to, to hope that we’re building a social community with these skills.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:29:14] Well, Joanna, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Where can people go to learn more about you and also the Claremont core?
Joanna Bauer: [00:19:39:08] Yeah, so ClaremontLincoln.edu is our Web page, and we have all of our programs there. We have our certificates there. And the course is also highlighted there.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:51:16] Also, fun fact. And we’ll make sure to include a link in this to the Claremont core, Joanna’s LinkedIn profile. And then you also have a podcast. So tell us about your podcast. For those who are like, Oh, I love podcast, I need to find other ones.
Joanna Bauer: [00:20:05:18] Yes. So our podcast is Leaders to Learn, and it is brought to you by Claremont Lincoln University. And what we just like you what we’re really looking to do is to talk to those leaders who are learning, who are trying to move forward. And as we know, we really do need those skills of leaders who are looking at social change, looking at different areas and all of the, the disciplines. And so we talk to, to all different leaders from all different industries and learn from them about what their trajectory has been and what their greatest tips are about being the leader.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:43:21] I love it and I there can’t be enough leadership podcasts or podcasts in any kind of this space, and I think it’s something that you could just slide over to your leadership team and say, hey, check out this podcast. It’s got some good stuff. And they can just it’s really easy just while you’re driving in the car or walking outside or, you know, wherever you have a few free minutes to spare.
Joanna Bauer: [00:21:08:05] Absolutely, 100 percent agree.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:11:05] Well, thank you so much, Joanna, I really appreciate you taking the time. You have given us a lot of food for thought as we look at ethics and leadership. Again, I mentioned at the beginning that this is now part of the HRCI’s recertification program, one of their 60 credits, regardless of what your certification is in with HRCI is required to be in the area of ethics. So it’s a it’s an area of focus for the HR profession. And I love that we’re able to talk about it here today.
Joanna Bauer: [00:21:44:23] Thank you so much, Jessica, and your work as well with leaders.
Break: [00:21:49:17] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology podcast powered by Workology. Today, we’re talking about what you need to know when it comes to business ethics for H.R. professionals. This is important in our jobs as HR leaders to support our organization, but also because HRCI is now requiring an ethics credit as part of recertification.
Dr. Lynne Bowes-Sperry
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:19:04] Our next interview is Dr. Lynne Bowes-Sperry. She’s an endowed chair and associate professor of management at California State University East Bay. Dr. Bowes-Sperry teaches courses and workplace ethics, diversity and inclusion, organizational behavior and human resources management. And she conducts research on a variety of issues related to ethical decision making in the workplace. Her research is published in top management and psychology journals and has, she is presented at numerous international conferences and has recently appeared in articles on sexual harassment and bystander intervention in prominent outlets such as ABC News, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Herald. Lynn, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:03:10] Thanks for inviting me, Jessica.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:05:06] Or should I call you Dr. Bowes-Sperry?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:07:18] You should absolutely not call me that. I do go by Dr. B.S., but you can you can go by Lynn.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:13:09] I’d love that. OK, let’s start with some background. Your work in the field of workplace ethics and human resources management is so extensive. What led you to work in this field and in this particular speciality?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:27:16] All right. So have you heard of the term going postal?
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:32:13] Yes.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:33:15] All right. So violent rage provoked by workplace stress. Take a guess as to where my father worked when I was growing up.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:41:19] Oh, OK.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:43:20] OK, the post office.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:45:04] Yeah.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:23:47:05] He was a postal carrier delivering mail. He brought stress home a lot. And I would like to make that happen less frequently. And the way to do that is to fix the workplace, not the worker. I never understood how delivering mail could be so stressful. I’m like, you’re putting mail in a mailbox. How tough is that? Until when I was in grad school, I had this aha moment that it wasn’t the work, it was the workplace. So part two of my answer, why ethics? Why giving voice to values. My father was also the president of his local union, very vocal person. No one ever had to ask. Joe, what’s your opinion on this? What do you think? Let’s hear your input. He was I think one of his favorite things to do was to tell the emperor that they were not wearing any clothes. So I did not like the things he told me about where he worked. And it really instilled a sense of justice or response to unfairness and injustice in me. And so it’s kind of practical for me and personal. I want to make workplaces better so that there are fewer kids who have to see their parents, you know, coming unglued, basically.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:04:12] I think that’s great for everyone, we want to come unglued less and we want to go to a workplace or work with people that don’t give us stress and anxiety and make us go postal.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:25:15:13] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:17:21] There’s so much I would like to ask you, but I’m going to go ahead and stick with HR leaders and those who are listening and the things that they want to know about this topic. We want to support our company leaders who may not have the best clarity when it comes to workplace ethics. What’s the best way you think to begin doing this?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:25:37:15] All right. Well, I think first I would say to put on your detective hat to start asking questions. And the first question I would ask the H.R. professionals who came to me if I was consulting with them would be when you say that your executive leadership lacks clarity around workplace ethics, are you telling me that they don’t understand why ethics matters? Because if that’s the case, my advice is going to be abandon ship or run for the hills, depending on if you work on an oil rig or a land based organization. I don’t think there’s any sense in rearranging lounge chairs on the Titanic. So if business ethics is an oxymoron in your current place of employment, I think you probably need to find another place to work. So now let’s say that, you know, you’re like, no, no, no, Lynn, it’s not like that law or executives here are good. They have good values. They completely understand that ethics matters. They just don’t completely understand how do we communicate that? And better yet, how do we make sure that people don’t even question if they’re doing the right thing, they just know to do the right thing. So my answer, there would be still keep your detective hat on.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:26:51:22] What specific issues can you see? Which ones are apparent? That is just the beginning, really. Now take off the detective hat. Put on the miner hat. We talk about toolkits in H.R., get your shovel. You need to dig. We need to see what is beneath the surface because that’s where the real stuff is, finding out what’s beneath the surface, asking your employees what kinds of issues do you encounter, what do you go home at when you leave work and go home? What are you stressed about? What does your family get mad at, you know, with regard to your employer? So my big takeaway is that you need to ask questions. You don’t want to be throwing spaghetti at the wall for a few reasons. One, it’s messy. It’s not nice to the people who have to clean up. Number two, that could have been somebody’s lunch. So instead of the spaghetti, I want us to be able to throw a dart at a bullseye so we know what problem we’re solving or what problems we’re solving. And we have the right approach rather than something that’s a trap.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:27:57:06] So when we had our prep call, we talked and you shared about a framework that is relatively new, but it’s called giving voice to values. Can you talk a little bit to our listeners about what giving voice to values is and and why this would be important when we think about ethics?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:28:15:06] Yes, definitely. First, I would like to acknowledge the person who developed giving voice to values. Her name is Mary Jane Tilly. And her big reason for coming up with this is because in business schools, the focus was almost on like kind of like moral philosophy, like how do we make the decision? What is the right decision? And she kind of thought, wait a minute, most of us know what the right decision is. So the assumption underlying giving voice to values is that doing is more difficult than determining. So our time is wasted talking about philosophy and trying to, you know, utilitarianism versus right based and all of that stuff. It’s great and it’s interesting. But that’s not where the issues are in business. People recognize what’s wrong. They have a hard time knowing what to do about it. So let’s take a perfect example. Well, it’s not a perfect example. I wish it wasn’t an example actually at all. Let me say this, an example that most people I think will be able to identify with. You’re at a meeting and somebody makes a comment that’s we’ll just use the word sketchy like people are looking at each other. Did that person really just say that clearly has made some people uncomfortable. We don’t need to determine if there’s a problem. There’s a problem. We just heard it. We just saw it. The tougher issue is what do you do in response to that? So giving voice to values focuses on the not was it wrong? But OK, you’ve identified it’s a problem.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:29:54:09] What do you do and how do you get it done? So the focus is on building moral musage. Musage. Building moral muscles and exhibiting moral courage. I just combine the word muscles and courage. Maybe that could be a new word. So when we talk about toolkits, we want to make sure we are not using the hammer. It is not hammertime, although if you’re talking about sexual harassment, you can definitely say don’t touch this. All right. So hopefully you got that joke. It’s a M.C. Hammer joke back from, I don’t know, the 90s maybe. But so the tool you do want to be using when you are trying to figure out how to respond to what you think you need to respond to. If you’re a cyclist and you get a flat tire, you use a tire lever to pry the tire off without ruining the entire bike. You want to minimize the damage. And giving voice to values gives us strategies and skills so that we can be assertive, but in a more gentle way that allows the person who you’re considering having done something problematic, that they can save face to some extent, because if they can’t, they’re going to get defensive. And other people might think that you’re a jerk for calling them out. Right. So you want to minimize collateral damage and giving voice to values is a very effective tool for that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:19:19] First of all, you’re the master of, like, funny puns.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:31:24:09] Thank you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:31:24:23] And I and I get the you can’t touch this reference because I am I am that old. But so I think a lot of our listeners can can relate. And when we think about human resources, so much of our job is dealing with the fallout of those kind of you can’t touch the situations. So how can we help people find a framework, our way to be able themselves to address it before it gets to our desk and H.R.?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:31:57:03] Right. Well, so in terms of training, we could focus on giving voice to values types training instead of compliance-based training. So we had talked previously about what exactly is ethical decision making in the workplace. And I think that’s a key piece to this. So, you know, hopefully ethical decision making in the workplace is not an oxymoron. Like I had said before, I think a good place to start is to think about what ethical decision making at work is not, kind of flipping the question upside down. If you were in my ethical leadership course, day one, maybe even hour one, I would say do not confuse ethical with legal. And if you were on an elevator ten years after you took my course and somebody said, you know, what was your big takeaway from that course? I would hope they said, do not confuse ethical with legal. So I can use another example also coming from a sexual harassment area to illustrate the difference. If I went to a training that was compliance-based, giving me the legal definitions, telling me what I’m not allowed to do by law, telling me what I must do by law, I go home and my kids say, Mom, how was you know, what was that training you went to today? You told me that your company was doing some kind of training about harassment or something. I would say, well, my big takeaway was we don’t harass people because it’s illegal. Right. So the idea being there is if it wasn’t illegal, we wouldn’t even be having this training.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:33:40:13] So what I would rather see is what I started studying. Let me back up for a minute. 1995, maybe around M.C. Hammer time. I’m not sure I wrote my dissertation and what I focused on was the idea that what we’re doing doesn’t work. Mind you, this was in 1995, hashtag me too was in 2017. So twenty years after my dissertation in 2015, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put together a task force to figure out, you know, how are we going to improve harassment in the workplace. And their big conclusion was that it is time to reboot harassment prevention efforts. And my friends, who are also scholars in this area, we’re like, oh really? Yeah, we knew that in 1995. So, you know, progress can be slow. But nonetheless, that is a great shout-out when the EEOC says, hey, we have been doing it wrong and we get that now. So what they recommend the major conclusion from this, I don’t know, couple hundred-page report that they wrote is that it’s on us. So the new book, right, if we’re going to reboot our prevention efforts, what new boot are we going to put on the bystander boot? It’s on us. When you see something, say something like this has become really popular now with school bullying even in the airport. Right. Or on a train, if you see something, say something. So I think that that would be my biggest piece of advice is reframing things from legal to values-based.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:35:22:23] That is a big shift for human resource professionals because we have been focused on the compliance and legal side of our jobs so much of the time.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:35:34:16] Yes, it is a big shift. I did work in H.R. quite a while ago, but even then I understand the value of compliance. So I want to make it clear that I’m not saying, well, let’s just completely disregard the law. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that think of the law as the floor, something we don’t go beneath. We can certainly aim higher. And that is what I hope companies aspire to because we don’t want to send the message we don’t harass because if we do, we might go to jail or our company might get sued. We want to send the message we don’t harass because it’s harmful. It hurts people. It hurts their families, it hurts their friends. It hurts the company’s bottom line ultimately. So that would be, I totally understand the fear that runs through H.R. And I also understand, even though I have a lot of friends, very good friends who are lawyers, that some of the advice they give, although great from a legal perspective, from a social, psychological, organizational behavior point of view, does not work. If it did, we wouldn’t have these problems that we’re still having.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:36:51:24] Agreed. And I think most people who are listening would say, like, I would much rather people not sexual-harass or make unethical decisions, not just out of fear that they’re going to go to jail or they’re going to lose their job. But because it’s not the right thing, it’s harmful to another person or hurtful.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:37:11:10] Exactly.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:37:13:05] When we encounter problems in ethical decision making, where do they typically occur and how do we be on alert for them?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:37:22:14] All right. So you get the idea that I like to flip things around a little. So I guess my kind of humorous question would be, where do they occur? No. Better question. Where don’t they occur? I kind of I think back to when I got my first car out of college, I got a Toyota Corolla. I never noticed Toyota Corollas before. Now I’m on the highway. Wow. Everybody just bought a Toyota Corolla. Like, you don’t notice things until they’re put in front of you. So where do these occur? First problem is when we don’t have moral awareness, rights to the first stage of getting to ethical behavior is recognition or awareness that there is, in fact, an issue here. So once we’ve got that clear, which once again can take a lot. So speaking to the H.R. professionals, you may be on step one for a year, you know, making sure that there’s this moral awareness and one good simple tool to do for that, instead of saying, is there an ethical issue when you’re making a decision about what type of action to take? Don’t ask that question. Ask what is the ethical issue here? Because if you think broadly, most decisions we make. Are going to impact a number of different stakeholders, the question when we’re asking what is the ethical issue translates into everyday languages. Who does this decision help and who does this decision potentially harm? So that if you take nothing away from this, don’t confuse ethics with legal and focus on making people understand there are ethical issues everywhere. So instead of assuming they may not apply, assume they do and prove yourself wrong, right? Take your decision-making process. What is the ethical issue here? Prove to yourself that there isn’t one and then move on.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:39:24:04] Workplace ethics training can sometimes be preachy. How do we get around this perception when we work to educate our leaders and our workforce on these moral issues and values?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:39:38:03] That is a great question. And, you know, it can be very preachy. I’m going to admit to when I was a younger adult, preaching was my go to I was very idealistic. You can’t do that. That’s not ethical. OK, let’s come back in my office and let’s have some real conversation. No, that’s not what they’re going to be saying. They’re going to be like, OK, how about you don’t talk to me anymore? So the first thing I think that’s important to recognize, I’ve already said that legal and compliance-based training can be ineffective because of the message they send. If ethics-based training is not done properly, it can also send a message that will be troubling to people. People don’t like to be told that they’re doing things wrong. You know, from a technical point of view, even more so from a moral or ethical point of view. Right. People get defensive immediately. So my big take away for how to make it not preachy and not people get defensive. I said don’t use the hammer before. Now we’re going to go to a different tool. We’re going to use the stapler. All right. So my advice would be to keep ethics training from being preachy. We’re going to use our stapler to attach the content of the training to our company’s values.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:40:56:04] All right. So now we’ve moved from moral philosophy to what are the values that this company espouses. If you’re going to not send a mixed message, you’re putting a value up there with your mission statement. You need to enact it. So the way you would get these ethics programs to be more well-received is tying them to the company’s values.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:41:19:00] Do you have a recommendation in terms of how frequently we provide ethics training to leaders and employees in the workplace? Is there a secret sauce, duration, or frequency?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:41:33:21] Well, I don’t know that there’s one secret sauce. I think there’s probably a lot of good sauces. You know, maybe there’s an alfredo, maybe there’s a pesto, maybe the tomato sauce. I would say that there’s not one correct way to do it. But the one thing I can say for sure is that it is not just about training. First of all, it can’t be a one and done right, because if it’s a one and done, the cynical people, which will be most of the people will say, like, OK, that was clearly done. So they could check the box in case somebody sues us. Let’s say, did you do a training? Yup. See our boxes checked? We did a training. So in terms of so so the duration isn’t the issue so much to me as that it’s sort of baked in. If we’re using these cooking metaphors with secret sauce, it needs to be baked in to the soul of the company. They need to walk the talk. You can have all the training as long as you want, as frequently as you want. If the people at the top or even the next level up your supervisor, if they’re making mistakes of an ethical nature, if they’re not considering who is being harmed, it doesn’t matter how much training you have. In fact, I would argue that the training can backfire because it’s going to make the company look hypocritical.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:42:50:20] So one of the questions I wanted to ask you before we close out the interview is where what resources do you recommend or places that HR leaders can go to get more information on ethical decision making and also the giving voice to values framework that you mentioned.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:43:10:20] Right. Ok, so in my ethics courses, there is a great resource that is free to the public, not just educators. All right. It’s at the University of Texas, Austin, and it’s called Ethics Unwrapped. And that is where the Giving Voice to Values program has a lot of free material. So in addition to the Giving Voice to Values program, which once again is kind of my the light of my life, academically speaking, they have a lot of material on corporate social responsibility, on behavioral ethics, everything ethics you can find on that website. So that would be one thing. Since this is an H.R. leader type podcast, I’m sure everybody is familiar with the Society for Human Resource Management and they have a publication called People and Strategy. In 2019, there was an issue of that journal or magazine focused on giving voice to values. So I’ve mentioned sexual harassment frequently throughout this podcast because that’s one of the areas that I study. And myself and my co-author, Stacey Chappell, have an article in that journal that is called Giving Voice to Values in the error of hashtag me too.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:44:34:20] Right. So there’s plenty of other articles focused on different aspects of business, but they’re all focused on giving voice to values. And then the last resource I would recommend you and I had talked previously about trust, not in this podcast, how trust is so important. And I have another co-author whose name is Cecily Cooper. And there’s a really great four-minute video that she has. She recorded it. It is on it’s called Part of the Trust Project, which is at Northwestern University, Kelloggs School of Business. And in that four-minute video, she really talks about how to establish a culture of trust and trust in ethics go hand in hand. I’m not going to voice my values to you if I don’t trust you, you know like you talked about right early on. If you fear retaliation, there’s no trust. There’s no voicing of values. So so those are three that I could recommend right off the bat. And if you want, I can provide further ones that you could attach to the podcast or point point people click click on this type of situation.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:45:45:18] Yeah. If you have any additional resources, feel free to send them over and we’ll add the trust project video as well as the Ethics Unwrapped. And then your article, if I can grab that from people and at least direct people to those places so they can they can learn more about this topic. I wanted to just say thank you for for taking the time to kind of impact this for us a little bit. Ethics is in the spotlight now more than ever. And one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation with you is because the Human Resources Certification Institute, HRCI, is now requiring in their recertification one credit that needs to be put on educational credit put towards the topic of ethics.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:46:34:20] Yeah, and I think that’s a great move on their part. And then my only piece of advice to them, since I don’t know them personally, I’ll say it through you, is that please don’t make it compliance-based.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:46:47:11] And that is my fear that that is the direction that all the recertification credits are going to go, which is why I wanted to have you on the podcast to talk about not just ethics related to compliance, but the ethics related to a framework and I guess a thought process, which is what I think we need more of right now. More than ever.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:47:13:05] Yeah. Thinking instead of just responding or reacting
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:47:16:08] Absolutely. Yeah. Where can people go to connect with you and learn more about the work that you do?
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:47:21:21] Well, as you know now I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area at Cal State East Bay, so I have a LinkedIn profile. They can reach me through that. They can reach me through the university email, phone call, however you want. I’m really, really interested in working with HR leaders to get them to focus on not just checking the box, but making sure that people at work feel good about work, especially in a fairness, trust, ethics way. And I have one point that I wanted to say that I have to get in. So if they do this right, they can take it off their to do list and put it on their ta dah list. I like a lot more ta dah list that we could write about in our research rather than to do lists.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:48:15:08] Agreed, and I think HR is due for some ta dahs right about now.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:48:20:23] And HR people can make that happen. I know a lot of people in the field of HR. They’re good people and they’re frustrated people frequently.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:48:28:24] And overworked, so.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:48:31:00] Oh yeah, that’s a given.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:48:32:07] That’s a given. All right, well, thank you so much, Lynn. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:48:37:15] You’re welcome. I’m so happy you invited me to do this. And I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:48:43:00] Me too.
Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry: [00:48:43:08] Thank you.
Closing: [00:48:44:23] Ethics and decision-making in leadership are intrinsically connected. It is important to understand that ethical decision-making is a process that will evolve and improve with attention. Also giving us a basis for making more ethical decisions in the workplace, choosing different methods of learning that goes beyond a recertification credit is key, and it provides us a deeper and broader understanding of that ethics role in leadership. That’s why I created Upskill H.R. to offer easy ways for H.R. professionals to get access to continuing education and resources, not just for recertification, that it is important, but also to stay on top of what has changed in the H.R. space. You can learn more about our Upskill H.R. program powered by Workology by visiting UpskillHR.com. A special thank you to Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry and Joanna Bower for taking their time today to give us incredible insights on the importance of business ethics, why we need it now more than ever as business leaders, as H.R. professionals, and how this all works together to help grow our organizations.
Connect with Joanna Bauer and Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry.
– Giving Voice to Values (Ethics Unwrapped)
– How to Leverage Business Ethics in Human Resources
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