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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workspace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my friend and co-host, Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting. Our topic today is ethics, diversity, and high performing cultures. Let’s just start by defining what is meant by ethics. Susan, let’s share a few different definitions that we’ve found.
Sure. Well, one is moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.
Number two, the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.
And number three, reflection on moral standards in decision making processes.
The Wall Street Journal published an article dated October 4, 2020, on how companies can create an ethics program. Some of the highlights of the article were, number one, for many years, ethics and legal compliance were considered to be one and the same.
Yeah, I could see that. Number two, doing what was best for the shareholder used to be the key driver, but now companies are judged on a vast range of issues, including diversity, human rights, carbon emissions, and more. There’s an award for the most ethical company that uses over 200 data points to evaluate who is best. 200!
I know, it’s crazy, like, so many different things to to consider. And research also proves that ethics and financial performance go hand in hand. Out of those world’s most ethical companies in 2020, they outperformed the large cap sector over a five year period by 13.5%. So it’s worth it to be ethical and to do the right things.
I find that very reaffirming.
Now a word from our sponsors. This podcast is sponsored by Susan Tinder White Consulting, a progressive human resource practice that helps businesses resolve people challenges through consulting, coaching, and training. Whether the opportunity is in a corporation, a not for profit, or government agency, HR solutions are tailored to optimize individuals’ and organizations’ strengths.
You can reach Susan via email at Susan Tinder White at gmail dot com – that’s Susan T-I-N-D-E-R W-H-I-T-E at gmail dot com – or by phone at 317-332-8017, or via the company website, susantinderwhiteconsulting.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.
To further explore the subject of ethics, we’ve invited Karl Ahlrichs as our guest today. Karl is an HR and marketing professional for Gregory and Appel working in multiple industries. He is a national speaker, author, and consultant presenting on the people issues in all industries and is often quoted in local and national media. Karl has spent decades doing strategic consulting in all industries, using risk management and good organizational development theories to bypass best practices and move directly to next practices. Karl is a CPE presenter for the AICPA, he is a regular contributor to the Journal of Accountancy, and for more than 20 years, he has facilitated an invitation-only CFO roundtable for Central Indiana. Karl still owns the first car he ever drove, he’s a passable dancer, and the only food he does not enjoy is the radish. Little tidbits about Karl. Karl, thank you for joining us today.
So excited that you’re with us today. Thank you so much for doing this.
Our first question for you. Isn’t ethics just following the law and doing the legal thing?
A common misconception. Especially with people who are control freaks, they…they like the clarity of rules. And isn’t ethics just a set of rules? Well, the short answer is no. Imagine a layer cake with the the bottom layer being morality, right and wrong. And right and wrong is usually coming out of religious texts in some form. I’ve found the same basic concepts in most of the religious texts I have read. It’s…it’s in the Bible, it’s in the Quran, it’s…it’s in the Talmud, it’s in the writings of Buddha. So it’s right or wrong. Okay, that’s nice and clean. We have the chaos of human life around us, and so let’s add a layer of compliance on top of morality, where it’s…it’s like a sentencing table for a judge. If this, then that. And it’s pretty clean and simple. Well, ethics is personal on top of that. Let me give you a quick example of why it needs some wiggle room, because ethics happens in the chaos of modern life. So I’m at a drugstore which has a deli section, and I see a person standing over by the deli section peeling and eating those cheese sticks like eating popcorn. Is clearly not going to pay for it. Is that theft? Yes. What should I do based on the sentencing table? Turn them in, you know, find a manager. But I…the…the person sees me watching them and steps forward and volunteers that she knows what she’s doing is wrong. She’s homeless and pregnant and she wants her baby to have a better start in life than she did. Does that change what I do?
Exactly. So this is shifting from the ethical paradigm of follow the rules of what you want the society in general, everybody, to do. Now we shift to….from follow the rules, we shift to the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So there in that instant, I pivoted which ethical answer I was going to use based on the situation. Compliance rules would not have me do that. Nope. Stealing? Lock her up.
That’s a great example. Right? It’s…ethics is not always easy. It’s not black and white. It’s not…
…right or wrong.
Usually, if…and those of us in human resources are often having to guide the ethical decisions of the organization, and many times you find that you are alone in this, that you’re making a tough choice where you’re making people angry by your decision. A couple quick real-life stories. Many jobs ago, I was in my office posting…I had a job not only with human resources responsibilities, but some administration, and I was posting the year end sales numbers. It was the last day of December that we were posting things. And my boss’s boss appears in the doorway with a piece of paper and says, post this sale. This is unusual. Okay. Why? I looked at it and said, the money has not arrived. This…this is written up as a sale, but until the check clears the bank, it’s not counted as a sale by our procedures. Says this is a European sale, it’s hung up somehow in the bank transfer process because of some vague European holiday. The money will be here Monday. We need to get this posted before five o’clock today. No, I knew why. Today was the close of the quarter. This sale would put everybody over the target. Everybody would get a bonus at the end of the year. Everybody knew this sale had been made. They’d already spent the money. So here’s the dilemma. This is my boss’s boss who got me the job there, who I have loyalty to. This is not our procedure. I am breaking our rules. I could be fired for that. Okay, this is that lonely moment. I did not post it, because I knew my duty to the organization. But I also knew that the culture would be affected by people not getting their bonus. But I went through the decision tree of making a good ethical decision, didn’t post it, was not a popular person. And two years later, my boss’s boss pulled me aside and said, you did the right thing.
Oh, how nice for you.
Yeah, but took two years to get there.
It was a miserable two years.
I’m so pleased that you survived it. I often say in that kind of situation, sometimes you have to be the adult in the room.
I like that. That’s well put.
Yeah. And Karl, you mentioned that you understood the culture. How does ethics connect with high performing cultures? Is there a correlation between the two?
Oh, huge. Okay, imagine a distribution curve of performance of high performers, mid pack, low performers, of those three slices of the employee group. High performers want a completely different set of standards than the other two groups. High performers want full accountability. High performers want to be able to count on their leaders doing the right thing. They want to know that if they stick their neck out and do the right thing, even though it’s unpopular – and I just gave you an example – that their boss will have their back. And I work at Gregory and Appel Insurance for a reason – the boss will have your back if you do the right thing. And that, right there, means that high performers stick around and other high performers want to work there. JoDee, you’ve been in HR forever. Have you ever fired somebody and had morale go up?
Oh, yes. Oh, yeah.
Yeah. You got the right one. Yeah. And generally, when I have seen somebody terminated for ethics, people step forward, after they’re gone and they’re sure they’re not coming back, they step forward and start revealing other ethical transgressions that were well known by the rank and file, but were not in the personnel file.
Oh, yeah. You know, I always saw him stealing office supplies.
Yeah. Funny how that comes out later. Right? Once they’re gone.
Yeah. Right. Only…it’s kind of like a divorce, only when you’re sure they’re gone do your siblings step forward and say…
I never liked her anyway. Yeah.
What were you thinking?
Yeah. That’s funny. So Karl, your perspective, do you think that we’re less ethical today than we were 20 years ago? Are things getting worse? Are they getting better?
I’m gonna give you two answers to that. First, this is actually measured. It’s measured by country. There’s there’s a an organization, I think, called Transparency International, and they do a annual listing of perceived corruption by country. And in 2014, the United States was ranked the 14th most ethical country from a perception standpoint. The 2020 numbers just came out, and we have slipped from 17th to 21st. So from a perception of corruption in the United States, we’re trending the wrong way.
Sorry to hear that.
Yeah. Let me flip it a different way. Humans are humans. And temptations are temptations and fraud is fraud. And I would say from that answer, we’re always the same. I mean, there are…there…there are stories from hundreds and thousands of years ago about people being unethical and people committing fraud. So I would say human beings are constant. But we have more opportunities to commit fraud today. We have more opportunities to be unethical today, because we have more channels that we communicate in.
And Karl, I know you do a lot of speaking, training to adults on the topic of ethics, but can we actually teach ethics to adults?
Who was it that the wrote “The Seven Habits”?
Thank you. Stephen Covey talked about sharpening the saw. We can sharpen the saw about ethics. We can remind ourselves of the importance of it. Let me give you a direct answer to your question. I think ethics is…that…that cake is kind of baked, I don’t know, around puberty or by age 20. I haven’t done research on when people’s moral compass is set, but it’s early. And people’s behaviors can change, either through a near death experience that they survive, and they shift on Maslow’s hierarchy and their behavior changes, or through a constant layer of paint on an existing monument that freshens it up. Which is why as…most people with licenses, most people with initials after their name, have a requirement for ethical training on a regular basis. And I teach that to banking, I teach it to finance and accounting, I teach it to human resources, I now teach it to the…it’s…this may sound funny, but there is an association of association executives, the ASAE, and they have added to their bylaws that everyone who is certified as a certified association executive gets an hour of ethics as part of their recertification. So…
Every time I see you speaking now on that topic, I’m gonna think about you painting. You’re just putting another coat of paint on people for that year.
Yeah. It’s actually a good metaphor. I’m gonna keep that one.
I like it.
Yeah. So, no, it’s baked already. Yes, we need to be constantly vigilant. Asterisk, if somebody is truly moral, it’s a waste of time.
If somebody is truly moral, they don’t even think about an ethical challenge. They just do the right thing. In my sessions, I will challenge people, give them a scale of one through five. One, not ethical, five, totally ethical. And 95% of the people in the class rate themselves as a four. And that wiggle room between four and five is why we’re having the training. There are people who are fives. Let me let me explain what that means and then tell you a brief observation that confirms it’s true. Someone who is truly moral has no idea that anyone would cheat. Someone who is ethical knows it’s wrong. Someone who’s moral doesn’t even see it. I work with someone who shamed me months back, next door in the office, Keith, our bond guy, and we’re talking in his office and he says, I’ll walk and talk, I have something I have to do. And he reaches in his drawer and he pulls out some copier paper and it’s from a pack that is not a brand that we use at the office. Pulls out two sheets, we walk over to the copier, he sticks his original on the on the flat and he sticks in his two sheets in the manual feed, makes two copies. We’re walking back to the office and I said, what just happened here? And he held up his two copies and said these are personal copies.
I felt guilty enough I was gonna hack him for toner and maintenance.
That’s a good man.
Yeah. And that’s…that’s the difference. Neither of us would cheat. But how many of us claim to be purely moral and break the speed limit?
Yeah, I do.
May need to talk to you about that.
That’s great. Karl, share with us what you see as the connection – if you do think there is one – between good ethics and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Oh, man, that’s easy. It’s doing the right thing. They have in common the point of just doing the right thing. There’s a lot of layers to both of them, but if we agree, we are all human…. And I was fortunate to see the Dalai Lama the last time he came to Indianapolis, and he said having biases does not make you anything-ist – sexist, racist, whatever – having biases means you are human. And as we wrestle with ethics, we’re really wrestling with doing the right thing. And as we are wrestling with racism, with microaggressions, with unconscious bias, the doing the right thing is the answer to all of those. So it’s…it’s really fundamental.
Yeah, it’s simple. Just do the right thing. Even if it’s personally painful, just do the right thing.
Yeah. Well, Karl, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. I love…always love your stories and analogies.
Can I throw one resource over the wall?
Best book, if anybody really wants to drill into this, is from an author who has passed. It’s a book that’s 20 years old. The title is “How Good People Make Tough Choices.” The author is Rush Kidder – K-I-D-D-E-R – and it has the answers people are looking for.
We’ll put a link to that book in our show notes as well. And also, Karl, if our listeners want to reach out to you or learn more about this topic, how can they get ahold of you?
Good news, I have an unusual last name that pops easily when you Google. A-H-L-R-I-C-H-S. And Karl with a K. You can find me on LinkedIn. Many other ways. You can call the switchboard at Gregory and Appel and say give me Karl, I’m the only one that works there. But I’d be happy to continue this conversation, I would be happy to bring these resources to any organization.
Alright. Thanks again.
Thanks for having me.
Thank you. JoDee, it’s time for our listener question. This question comes from a listener who completed one of our SHRM credit eligible episode evaluation forms. Here it is. “What are the hot jobs right now? Which jobs should we pay special attention to with regard to strong shifts in the market?”
Well, I have to admit that I started to answer this question just off the top of my head on what I thought the hot jobs were. And then I did a few Google searches, which went back to pre-pandemic time, so I didn’t think that was fair. But I found in the fall of 2020, indeed.com listed the 15 most in-demand jobs. And I have to tell you, I was surprised with many of these answers. Seven of the hottest jobs, most in-demand jobs are in health care: the home health aide, nursing assistant, physical therapist, physical therapist aide, RNs, and health services administrators, and medical technologists.
Three of them are in technology: web developer, information security, and software developer.
And the remaining five round out a very wide variety: a construction worker, truck driver, operations research analyst, financial advisor, and statistician. I think, Susan, why I was most surprised with those answers, because they didn’t seem to be pandemic related, right? Even though the healthcare industry has been through such a crisis, actually, many hospitals and practice offices have been declining in work because people are not doing elective surgery. So I was surprised about those. And then some of those, I think, have probably been on the list for a long time, like truck driver and software developer and web developers. So the pandemic didn’t have as much of an impact as I would have thought.
In our in the news section, COVID-19 has been tough for most of us, but in a September article in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that black working women are one of the hardest hit groups in America. They are more likely than others to consider stepping away from their career due to a number of reasons.
First of all, they’re twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as compared to white or non-Hispanics.
And in the survey of 40,000 workers, black women were three times as likely as men or all other women to say their biggest stress has been grieving the loss of a loved one.
Number three, they were less likely to say that they felt included in the workspace and more likely to be uncomfortable sharing their grief with colleagues.
And nearly one out of four black women feel that they can’t bring their whole selves to work compared with one out of 10 white women. So some very tough statistics there. If leaders can support and acknowledge that they understand this disparity, it can go a long way toward establishing trust. And increasing this trust, of course, can increase retention and engagement, which we know leads to incr…increased productivity and therefore profitability of these black women.
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