The Three Keys to Ethical Organizations

There are many ideas about the factors that contribute to the ethics of an organization. These ideas range from ethical leadership to a concern for stakeholders to having a mission beyond economic success. While these ideas seem plausible, there is little evidence to support them. More importantly, there is often little you can do to affect these factors. A company that makes coat hangers is limited in the extent to which it can make its mission inspiring.

So a team of researchers set out to isolate actionable factors that contribute to an organization’s ethics. Their research found three factors that any organization can use to improve its ethics.

The first factor is a work culture in which employees are never retaliated against for reporting concerns. Many studies show that organizations in which employees report errors do better on quality measures and our research supports this. Employees in all organizations fear retaliation to some extent, especially when reporting on their managers. This fear of speaking up allowed unethical practices to persist at GM and Volkswagen even when many employees knew better. Ethical organizations don’t pretend that fear of retaliation does not exist but instead work to create a culture in which retaliation is not tolerated and reporting is expected. More to follow.

Book at O’Reilly

My book Make an Ethical Difference is on sale at half price today at One day only.

Influence with Ethics

I recently had a chance to do a webinar for a company called Soundview. Soundview is famous for its its Executive Book Summaries.

The topic is how to influence people with ethics. The key theme is that most books and talks on influence teach you how to manipulate people. Manipulating people has a “rebound effect” when people realize that they have been manipulated. When you influence with ethics, there is no rebound effect. In fact, when you influence someone with ethics, you are building a foundation for your future efforts to influence them. So the webinar definitely talks about how to become an effective source of influence, but it emphasizes the advantages of taking an ethical approach to influence.

You can attend the webinar online at

Talk About Ethics

When you write a book, your publisher wants you to get a lot of publicity which means, among other things, doing a lot of radio and television shows. This has nothing to do with your own credentials. PR people just arrange this. As you might imagine, with ethics as a topic, a lot of these interviews turn out to be humorous at best. But I was interviewed by Pat Raskin who runs a radio show and company called Positive Business, and she helped me cover the key points. You may want to listen.

Ethical Agreement

Make an Ethical Difference has been getting a lot of PR which of course is all to the good except that it makes it hard to keep this page up to date. One of the topics that focuses the book is why people disagree so much about ethics – and whether it matters. People just have a hard time changing their minds when it comes to ethics. An article on this topic appeared at Yahoo News. I was asked to write something on why truth telling matters, especially for CEOs, for CEO magazine. I always appreciate comments on these pieces, none of which is repetitious of the book, at my personal email address

Optimism for Ethics

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students and faculty at Boston University’s Kilichand Honors Program. I have done so many radio programs where the host asks me what is wrong with today’s young people that I wasn’t expecting much. My plan was to cover the main points in Make an Ethical Difference in simplified form. I got a big surprise. The students got very involved in the topic and, to my delight, they showed a level of ethical thinking that is not supposed to exist anymore. They were truly exceptional. The faculty at Kilichand were another pleasant surprise as many were dedicated to integrating ethics in the design of the overall curriculum. I know that this was not a representative sample, but it was a sample and the students and faculty were real! So while we are wringing our hands about today’s kids, please remember that there are some good ones – and some good adults too.