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Ethics can
Ethics Can is a book about ethics in the workplace.

The title of the book probably warrants an explanation. It derives from the Bloomberg Businessweek 2014 Design issue which included input from the many people who took part in the publication’s second annual design conference. A particularly noteworthy exchange was captured with Neville Brody, head of Brody Associates and dean of the School of Communication at the Royal College of Art in London, who answered a question from a Bloomberg journalist with, “Design can ______.”  Asked to fill in the blank, Brody replied, “That’s the full sentence. Design can. Ensuring that the world’s population has access to water, food, sanitation, a roof over their heads – all of that is design.” Maybe a better question would have been: “What can’t design do?” 

This echoes the "Yes We Can" slogan used by Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign to motivate and drive change for the better – which saw him elected as the American president in 2009.

We can debate the vast scope of Neville Brody’s claim about design, and it will be for history to judge whether President Obama’s motto did translate into major positive change. However these claims may pan out, the applicability of the ‘blank space’ to the subject of ethics is very apparent. “Ethics can” is also the full sentence. 

Ethics can build trust; it can create pleasant, productive workplaces that are characterised by high levels of fairness, respect, accountability and responsibility; it can foster sound relationships with internal and external stakeholders; it can position organisations as employers of choice, attracting and retaining the best talent; it can boost organisations’ reputations and brand equity; it can create a high degree of customer and investor confidence; and it can and should be a key differentiator that accords ethical organisations a unique source of competitive advantage. In short, ethics can make all the difference.

In order to realise this difference, I have addressed six themes in my book:
  • Understanding workplace ethics beyond just what is right and wrong
  • Illustrating why ethics makes such good business sense, and helping leaders and managers to give a good motivation for an ethical business focus
  • Establishing who is responsible for ethics in the organisation, and exploring the roles of the organisation leadership, the social and ethics committee, and HR
  • Managing workplace ethics using a comprehensive ethics management system, including a detailed focus on topical workplace issues
  • Discussing the crucial tasks of measuring, monitoring and reporting on ethics and ethical performance
  • Exploring ethical decisions and dilemmas, and examining how to make those really tough ethical decisions

The themes and topics are applicable to organisations in all sectors and across all industries. While the burning issues or the emphases may differ, the fundamentals, such as ethical leadership and a sound ethics management system, are necessary in all organisations. 

A pertinent feature of the book is that it is made up of a collection of separate, stand-alone articles that are grouped thematically – based on the issues and challenges that are most pertinent in the workplace. Thus, instead of necessarily having to read the book in the conventional sequence from front to back, the structure allows the topics to be read individually, as and when those issues arise or based on the reader’s specific interest or area or responsibility. 

Finally, there are a number of reasons why I wrote this book. For all those who strive to maintain or improve ethics in their workplaces, it is intended to be a quick and easy reference for best practice guidelines and practical support in managing ethics even better. For those who are not yet fully convinced about ethics and its relevance, I hope this book will be persuasive. For organisations, the book can serve as a useful resource. It can form part of a training programme for executives, leaders and managers who have the responsibility of managing ethics in the workplace – or, in fact, it will serve any employee well who is interested in knowing more about ethics, since the more widespread the knowledge and understanding of ethics is, the more it becomes the norm in terms of behaviour. 

But, above all, I wrote this book to share my knowledge and understanding in a clear and accessible manner so that it can contribute to building a great community of people who are both committed and competent to make a difference as regards workplace ethics – and because that difference is so sorely needed.

Cynthia Schoeman is the MD of Ethics Monitoring & Management Services (Pty) Ltd, and the author of Ethics: Giving a Damn, Making a Difference and Ethics Can. She is also a facilitator at USB-ED, and her areas of expertise include Ethics and Governance.
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