By Jessica Salerno-Shumaker, OSCPA senior content manager
Upholding ethics doesn’t happen by hiring the right people, rather it’s about creating an intentional environment.
“Ethical leadership and ethical cultures don't just happen, they are cultivated,” said Tiffany Crosby, CPA, OSCPA chief learning officer. “Who wants to walk around their office thinking a coworker is unethical? No one wants to think about their fellow peers like that.”
Crosby said most people want to trust their colleagues, and the idea that they need to maintain a level of skepticism can be unnerving.
Research has shown most of the time people will be ethical, she said, but the opportunity to act unethically can sometimes be the result of the perfect form. There might be pressure from a job, family or finances combined with someone who is tired or burned out that results in “a willingness to skirt the line a little bit.”
Instead of avoiding having conversations about what is ethical and what isn’t, and how to be better aware of these scenarios, Crosby said people need to be comfortable with regularly examining work situations to ensure ethical behavior is still occurring.
“Those are the types of conversations you start to have so people can make the leap from policy and procedure to practical application as they're going about their work,” she said.
The evolving business environment means more stress and complexity when it comes to ethics, and it’s a topic that will need to be revisited regularly.
“We have to be able to say what is our true north?” she said. “And how do we get comfortable applying those principles in complex situations?”
Ethical principles need to be articulated and discussed, Crosby said, along with leaders being vocal about the reasoning behind certain decisions so the thought process and ethical consideration can be better understood.
“The lines between companies continue to blur,” she said. “And the more gray there is, the more opportunity there is for there to be some ethical lapses.”