It’s customary to approach ethics from a negative, Old Testament perspective. Provide a comprehensive list of “Thou shalt not’s” for employees to follow, and enforce them as best you can (Stacks and Bowen, 2011). Companies might be better served, however, in establishing a set of ethical standards for employees to emulate. Rather than merely cautioning employees against which actions to avoid, these standards provide employees with “moral principles [to] consider when making decisions” (Stacks & Bowen, 2011, p. 5). Employed properly, a set of ethical standards not only provides ethical guidelines for employees, it also “becomes an instrumental way to promote a cohesive organizational culture that values ethics” (Stacks & Bowen, 2011, p. 5).
Interestingly enough, creating (and subsequently following) an organization’s ethical standards also aligns nicely with current business trends. The 2013 Edelmen Trust Barometer Executive Summary shows that since 2008 operational excellence, once the capstone of corporate reputation, has become a mere competency, or expectation. Its place has been taken by more ethically driven attributes like personal or customer satisfaction or even the greater good (“Edelman Trust Barometer”, 2013, p. 9). Companies are now being judged as much on how ethically they do business as how well they do business.
The question (and challenge) going forward will be: how do we as ethical public relations professionals ensure that the ethical demands of the publics remain at the forefront?