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Integrity among staff comes from the top

Sending staff on ethics training does little to encourage integrity, according to the findings of a research report by ICAEW and Leeds University.

The report, called Real Integrity, concluded that a package of measures is needed to instil integrity in an organisation, including leaders who set a good example to their staff.

The research concluded that the tone from the top is fundamental. It also found that an open culture, inviting discussion of ethical issues, was crucial in promoting an organisation’s integrity. Support for whistleblowing and a set-down list of values were also flagged by the report as key in a company’s ethical approach.

Elizabeth Higgs, ICAEW’s ethics and integrity manager, said, “The need for integrity has never been as widely recognised as now. Whatever other factors may have been responsible for the phone hacking practices at News Corporation, MPs’ misuse of expenses, or dismissing a whistle-blower by Olympus, a lack of integrity played a part.

“Integrity is much-desired but little-understood. It is also something organisations must actively seek to promote. This report sets out and assesses the effectiveness of a series of practical techniques that should help organisations instil integrity.”

Jim Baxter, professional ethics development officer at Leeds University, said, “One of the key messages to organisational leaders arising from this research is that they need to be seen to lead by example, but also to work to create an open culture within their organisation. People need to feel that they are able to raise issues and concerns without fear of retribution, either direct or indirect, and that their contributions are valued.”

In organisations where values were seen to be effective, there was a view that that staff genuinely had a role in affecting decisions. A list of values can offer criteria for decisions to take on an ethical dimension, and can thereby offer a counter-balance to commercial or other pressures, the report said.

Higgs concluded, “All organisations and businesses must take responsibility for their integrity; promoting it actively and monitoring if carefully, but professional bodies have a particular role in emphasising the importance of integrity as a result of the influence of their members in different organisations.” 

Helen Roxburgh

Originally published in Economia, June 2012.