Episode 265: Why We Need More Ethics as Business Leaders

Ethics is part of the core HR practices when managing daily employee interactions and organizational goals. HRCI recertification requires dedicated ethics credits, which is why it’s important to consider how to fulfill your HR ethics credit. Having a participatory course that allows discussion time is ideal for understanding how ethics in leadership specifically impact purpose, values, and principles, and how we make decisions based on shared goals. 

Episode 265: Why We Need More Ethics as Business Leaders with Joanna Bauer (@JoannaBauer) and Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry (@LynnBowes-Sperry)

In this special episode of the Workology Podcast, I spoke to two HR leaders with decades of experience in business ethics to get an idea of what we need to focus on for certification, plus give you some insight into the courses we have available on the topic through UpSkill HR.

Joanna Bauer is Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, 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.

“When I was a consultant for organizations, some of the questions I asked were about the culture, mission and vision of the company. Sometimes they weren’t clearly defined, which is an issue. To achieve any goal, it must be defined and effectively communicated, and then there has to be stakeholder buy-in. HR professionals should work with leadership to collaborate and define the mission and vision, which includes the bottom line foundation of ethical stance. Getting buy-in from leadership can go a long way to create an ethical framework and making sure that it is implemented long term. The other element is the ongoing, long-term professional development on maintaining that ethical stance throughout the organization.”

“It’s important to name what we’re doing ethically and repeat it often.” – Joanna Bauer

“In marketing, there’s a concept where it takes nine exposures to a concept for it to be seen, and it takes 15 exposures for it to start gaining some awareness. By naming and defining the concept that is our ethical framework, it says that we as an organization value ethical decision making.” 

Supporting Company Executives with Ethics Training

Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry is the Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Management at California State University – East Bay. Dr. Bowes-Sperry teaches courses in Workplace Ethics, Diversity & Inclusion, Organizational Behavior, and Human Resources Management, and conducts research on a variety of issues related to ethical decision-making in the workplace. I asked Lynn about how we can support company executives and what HR leaders should focus on with ethics training.

“In terms of [ethics] training, we could focus on tools-based training like Giving Voice to Values, as opposed to compliance-based training. The key piece to this is ‘what is ethical decision making in the workplace?’ A good place to start is to think about what ethical decision making in the workplace is not, flipping the question upside down. If you were in my ethical leadership course, day one, hour one, I would say do not confuse ethical with legal. 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 ask about training and I tell them that my takeaway is that ‘we don’t harass people because it’s illegal.’ What I would rather see is the takeaway that we don’t harass people because it isn’t ethical.” 

“We must reframe ethics from a legal space to a values space. Think of the law as the floor; it’s something we don’t go below. But we want to aim much higher.” – Dr. Lynn Bowes

Ethics and decision making in leadership are intrinsically connected. It’s important to understand that ethical decision-making is a process that will evolve and improve with attention, giving us a basis for making more ethical decisions in the workplace. Choosing different methods of learning that goes beyond recertification credit is key to a deeper and broader understanding of ethics in leadership. That’s why I created UpSkill HR to offer easy ways for HR professionals to access the continuing education needed not just for recertification, but also to stay on top of what has changed in the HR space. Learn more about UpSkill HR here.

I’d love to invite you to join our free HR Certification Study Group on Facebook. This is where I share more free resources like this podcast and connect you with thousands of HR professionals just like you who are also preparing for their HRCI and SHRM certification exams. 

Connect with Joanna Bauer and Dr. Lynn Bowes-Sperry.


Joanna Bauer on LinkedIn

The Claremont Core®

Leaders Who Learn Podcast

Dr. Lynn Bowes on LinkedIn

Giving Voice to Values (Ethics Unwrapped)

– How to Leverage Business Ethics in Human Resources

– Episode Transcript



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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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