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BUSINESS ETHICS: THE COMMUNICATOR’S ROLE . An address by Alan Lane (VASGAMA) to the International Association of Business Communicators’ International Conference Los Angeles – 6-9 June, 2004. ETHICS: KNOWLEDGE OF MORAL PRINCIPLES .

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business ethics the communicator s role

BUSINESS ETHICS: THE COMMUNICATOR’S ROLE

An address by Alan Lane (VASGAMA) to the International Association of Business Communicators’ International Conference

Los Angeles – 6-9 June, 2004

ethics knowledge of moral principles
ETHICS: KNOWLEDGE OF MORAL PRINCIPLES
  • … process covering issues of care and trust, social responsibility and environmental concern, while identifying the values necessary to balance the demands of performance today with responsibilities for tomorrow.
ethical perceptions
ETHICAL PERCEPTIONS
  • Merchants have no country of their own. Wherever they may be they have no ties with the soil. All they are interested in is the source of their profits

Thomas Jefferson

ethical perceptions4
ETHICAL PERCEPTIONS
  • You are not remembered for what you do in business but what you do in civil society
ethical perceptions5
ETHICAL PERCEPTIONS
  • Public Relations … the company liar

… comment from next generation

ethics management problem
ETHICS: MANAGEMENT PROBLEM
  • Decisions made in vacuum
  • Ethics often not included
  • Result: crises
ethics global crises
ETHICS: GLOBAL CRISES
  • Parmalat - Italy
  • Shell Group – UK/Netherlands
  • WorldCom/Enron - US
  • Seibu Railways - Japan
crisis of confidence
CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
  • Fraud: senior management perpetuated close to two thirds of cases surveyed
  • In almost fifth of cases, no action taken due to reputation concerns
  • Only one in four cases detected by internal controls

KPMG survey

not all negative
NOT ALL NEGATIVE
  • Organisations not things; but people acting in most cases ethically
  • Business moving from philanthropy to Social Responsibility
  • But the test: new approaches not PR gloss over unchanged practice
ethics crisis implications
ETHICS CRISIS IMPLICATIONS
  • Catastrophe for financial journalism

Where were Communications?

  • Didn’t they see it coming?
  • Were they in the circle of influence?
  • Could they face criminal charges?
ethics on agenda
ETHICS ON AGENDA?
  • As part of induction/training/legal/

commercial & financial requirements

  • As part of day-to-day behaviour & decision-making
  • Role in business planning
corporate decision circle
CORPORATE DECISION CIRCLE
  • CEO/Managing Director/Presidents/ Heads of businesses
  • Often outside circle: Communications/HR/Legal/Sustainable Development
  • Few in circle with knowledge of public expectations & outside environment
executive team board
EXECUTIVE TEAM & BOARD
  • Communications presence growing trend but limited
  • Surveys show heads of communications in many admired companies not on executive team or board
  • Many have no daily CEO contact
question to ask
QUESTION TO ASK

So where were Communicators at

  • Parmalat
  • Shell
  • Enron/WorldCom
  • Seibu Railways?
review communications role
REVIEW COMMUNICATIONS ROLE
  • At nerve-centre of decision-making?
  • Aware of decisions with ethical dilemmas?
  • Seen as having value or influence?
  • Can affect policy debate?
communicators catalysts for reputation
COMMUNICATORS: CATALYSTS FOR REPUTATION
  • Bird’s eye/helicopter view of organisation
  • Less of ‘corporate silo’ – daily contact with others
  • See future terms of business engagement
  • Know public taste & perception of organisation
  • Role: help steer organisation ethically
communicators masters of relationship management
COMMUNICATORS: MASTERS OF RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT?

The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.

John D Rockefeller

reputation watch keepers
REPUTATION WATCH-KEEPERS

Employees are …

  • The eyes, ears, mouth and conscience of the organisation
  • Eyes/ears pick up intelligence
  • Mouth delivers believable messages (ideally with Communications involved)
corporate conscience or servant
CORPORATE CONSCIENCE OR SERVANT?
  • Communicators’ role?
  • Dilemma:

…Communicators forced to answer media without full information. Can’t say no; challenge to know everything; yet…

  • ‘consciously not knowing and seeking information and giving answers, flies dangerous close to lying’

Dr. Simon Zadek

corporate conscience or servant20
CORPORATE CONSCIENCE OR SERVANT?
  • Not enough to believe organisational values

Greatest contribution:

  • Doubt, question, challenge – ensure organisation at ethical peak of learning capacity

Dr. Simon Zadek

ethics minefield
ETHICS MINEFIELD
  • New drug with potential threat to human health
  • further tests or not challenge status quo?
  • Misappropriation of funds/misinformation
  • act to head off media witch hunt or stay quiet, hope crisis recedes?
  • Coca Cola Dasani

- communications advice?

communicator s options
COMMUNICATOR’S OPTIONS
  • Blow the whistle
  • Manage dilemma ethically
  • Resign
  • Play ‘corporate servant’
whistleblower role models
WHISTLEBLOWER ROLE MODELS
  • Sherron Watkins – vice president Enron
  • Coleen Rowley – attorney FBI
  • Cynthia Cooper – vice president audit, WorldCom
  • Not in Communications
to act or not to act
TO ACT OR NOT TO ACT

…to know and not to act is not to know at all

Japanese proverb

… which means, if you turn a blind eye and fail to detect the rumblings, then your objective professional counsel is of no value

avoiding ethical dilemmas
AVOIDING ETHICAL DILEMMAS
  • Communicators to be part of decision-making circle
  • Assess questionable issues & decisions
  • Red-flag potential troublesome decisions
  • Scrutinise business plan & processes
communicators complaints
COMMUNICATORS’ COMPLAINTS
  • Shut out of policy decisions
  • Little briefing, little time to develop, deliver messages that are flawed
  • Separating Communications from policy-making dangerous; led to many crises
the answer
THE ANSWER
  • Communicators often too fixed on boardroom seat
  • Develop trust-based relationships with line managers – they know what’s going on
  • Leads to early issue awareness before crisis develops
reporting line issue
REPORTING LINE ISSUE
  • Problems when Communications reports to another department, not CEO/executive team
  • Reports to Marketing: can be pressured to secure publicity for ethically flawed product
  • Communications’ reputation with stakeholders damaged
measuring performance
MEASURING PERFORMANCE
  • Communications part of ethical performancetracking – need to deliver results
  • Management decisions screened to assess performance standards/accountability to stakeholders/regulators
  • Overview of financial/non-financial reporting needs
  • Ethics health check: stated & lived values gap
ethics abuse public backlash
ETHICS ABUSE: PUBLIC BACKLASH
  • Ethical performance no longer business add-on – backlash against malpractice
  • New laws/approaches

- Sarbanes-Oxley/European Union

- World Economic Forum reviews

corporate crime

- UN: potential liability on human rights

for multinationals

communications role crucial
COMMUNICATIONS ROLE CRUCIAL
  • Ethical behaviour/bottom-lining managers often not good mix
  • Cost-cutting, sweating assets part of problem
  • Ethically-driven employees often not playmakers - part of bolt-on units (Communications, Sustainable Development, HSE)
communications potential
COMMUNICATIONS POTENTIAL
  • Communications to influence debate
  • Work with global standards: UN/Transparency International/Social Accountability International
  • Persuade management to sign up to Communication professional codes: IABC/IPRA
global trends potent
GLOBAL TRENDS POTENT
  • Linkages between environment, human rights, global governance
  • Globalisation now the catch-all
  • Defining social movement of early 21st century
  • Driven by leaders (business/political) operating in vacuum
communicators reality
COMMUNICATORS’ REALITY
  • Where Communicators & management fail to police ethical behaviour; shareholders or regulatory groups will act
  • CEOs/CFOs fired and go to jail
  • Why not Communicators for dereliction of duty to protect reputation?
communicators reality35
COMMUNICATORS’ REALITY
  • Worst-case scenario: Communications judged guilty by association with unethical practices
  • Reputation of 20, 50, 100 years destroyed in a matter of hours or days
the future
THE FUTURE

Partly in Communicators’ hands:

  • To contribute to new world order
  • To help resolve trend towards moral ambiguity
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