A manager at any level within an organization must possess certain human management skills to be successful

A manager at any level within an organization must possess certain human management skills to be successful. One such skill is the ability to foster and maintain an ethical environment among subordinates. As a student of business management it is important to learn these skills early on. Performing personal interviews with professionals in the industry is a creative and informative way to learn more about required managerial tasks. I recently conducted an interview with Debbie Olson of ThriftBooks LLC. Ms. Olson is the Senior Director of Human Resources at ThriftBooks. She has been in her current position for 11 years. She has previous experience in similar roles with Sears retailer and Dominos Pizza. Ms. Olson has 9 direct reporting managers, and over 900 employees total. ThriftBooks can be described as a tech company, but also maintains inventory warehouses throughout the U.S. In this particular interview Ms. Olson was asked to describe how she ensures an ethical climate within her organization.
Through a series of interview questions and a thorough examination of the text it is clear there are four main areas of focus when maintaining an ethical environment. One must hire ethical employees, create a standard or code of ethics, require participation in ethics training, and enforce an overall ethical climate.
Ms. Olson was asked a series of questions regarding the hiring process of ThriftBooks. While not directly referencing the term Ms. Olson did confirm that she uses a series of Overt integrity tests as outlined in the text. Ms. Olson sited interview questions such as, “describe a situation where you have faced an ethical dilemma, how did you handle the situation”. She explains that this allows here to gage a potential employees moral compass, and gain a better understanding of how they have acted in the past. Ms. Olson also discusses interview questions asked such as personality-based integrity tests. Questions regarding a candidate’s dependability, reliability, willingness to follow the rules, and past experience with commitment are asked. While Ms. Olson did not specifically relate those questions to creating an ethical environment, the textbook references studies done that have shown these traits to be indicators of an individual’s ethical conscience. During an interview you may assume that a potential employee would pose to having a higher moral ground than they do, but as the text suggests unethical people are often jaded. They believe that most people are dishonest, and that their unethical behavior is not abnormal. This is why direct and indirect interview questions are so important when examining a candidate.
When asked about how employees are notified of the ethical standards of ThriftBooks Ms. Olson mention the code of conduct set forth by the company. Ms. Olson discussed that as the Director of human resources she not only contributed to the establishment of the company’s code of conduct, but also plays a direct role in its implementation. Ms. Olson discussed components of her code of conduct such as expectations of managers to avoid conflicts of interest with family members, sales representatives to avoid bribery with kickbacks and rewards from vendors, and clear expectations on arriving to work and interpersonal communications. As suggested in the book a company must not only have a code of ethics, but also make that code available to its employees. When asked how employees are made aware of these ethical standards, Ms. Olson described her hiring process. She explains that all new employees are given an employee handbook to review. They are asked to sign a document stating that they understand the code of conduct and that they understand the consequences of failure to comply. She also explained that the employee handbook contacting the code of conduct is available to all employees on the company’s intranet server. As our text states it is important to have specific ethical standards that relate to specifically to the company’s line of business. Ms. Olson describes conduct standards created specific to the warehouse jobs such as break times, clocking in and out procedures, ethics of book processing, and accounting processes of daily activities. These guidelines give a clear understanding to employees what the company considers ethical.
The next area of reference from the text is Ethics Training. When asked about how ethical behaviors are taught out to employees Ms. Olson had some interesting input. She mentioned the creation of training software and video presentations for new employees to review. She also mentioned that she felt it was important for employees to have regular “check ups” in regards to ethical training. She said they have videos and training modules for new employees as well as modules for existing employees. She feels that this keeps her workforce well rounded and ethics on the forefront of employee’s minds at all times. One area of complication that Ms. Olson identified was the struggle to keep training modules interesting to employees. To solve Ms. Olson’s challenge the book would suggest that she make the modules relevant to the workplace. As the majority of jobs help by employees of ThriftBooks are warehouse jobs it could be beneficial to include job specific situations for employees to envision. Perhaps Ms. Olson could brainstorm real ethical scenarios that have come up, or situations that have ended in termination of an employee and use those as a guideline to create mock examples to help guide and training employees.
The biggest takeaway I received from this interview was the importance of an ethical culture. When asked what the most important drive force of ethical behavior among employees was, Ms. Olson responded “I believe the tone must be set by the company in regards to culture and ensure that the full executive team acts in an ethical manner in all cases.” Ms. Olson finds that in her experience culture has the most influence regarding ethical behavior. As reported in our text employees at companies with a strong ethical culture are less likely to observe coworkers engaging in unethical behavior. The text also suggests that employees of these same companies are also far more likely to report unethical behavior. When discussing this research with Ms. Olson she also found that in the warehouse where they had stronger management teams with a longer tenure with the company they had fewer incidents of fraud and unethical behavior. Ms. Olson also stated that among teams where they have removed managers for acting unethically they found that many employees within that team needed be retrained to ensure company ethical guidelines were being followed. Ms. Olson talked a lot about how she creates a culture with her employees. She explains that she maintains an open door policy with all employees, and strives to treat both top management and line level employees the same. She personally reviews all expenditures from both managers and employees, and talks freely about ethical dilemmas she faces with her team. Ms. Olson stresses the importance of a teamwork and collectivism within the company. She believes that the more an employee is invested in the company, the more they will feel a responsibility to act ethically.
While having a strong culture is vital to the process of maintaining ethical standards. It is also important to have a process for follow through when ethical violations occur. Ms. Olson emphasizes her desire to treat all employees and managers equally. Ms. Olson reiterated many times throughout our conversation that consistency was key to holding employees accountable; and maintaining a high level of ethical integrity. When asked further about the processes of holding employees accountable Ms. Olson points to a protocol amongst mangers in which they have developed an understanding of major and minor infractions. Ms. Olson states that minor infractions such as showing up late to work, or taking longer breaks than allotted would result in coach and training from the employee’s direct manager. More severe and intentional acts such as; time clock fraud, stealing, or dishonesty would result in termination. She believes that holding each employee and manger accountable to those standards creates a culture where no party is exempt from the responsibility of ethical integrity. She discussed a time when working as a Director of Human Resources for Dominos in which managers were mishandling cash and creating ethical dilemmas for their direct employees. Ms. Olson discussed the situations in brief, but explained that she always visited those stores and would research the processes directly. She mentioned that she did have to let a few mangers go for their unethical actions, but she does not hesitate to do so because she believes in upholding the company policies and holding everyone accountable. According to our text it is vital that an organization have a clear reporting. The text references two problems that must be addressed for an employee to feel comfortable reporting an issue. First the employee must feel as if the report will be taken seriously and acted on. Second the employee must be free of fear from retaliation. I asked Ms. Olson how whistleblowers are addressed within her organization. Ms. Olson stated that she takes all complaints seriously no matter what the circumstances are and who is involved, all complaints are investigated and action is taken as needed.
While it may seem as if ensuring an ethical culture within an organizations seems as easy as creating an ethical policy and reporting it out to employees, it is clear that this is a complex and often-difficult tasks. Ethical dilemmas develop daily and it is vital for organizational managers to be hyper vigilant in creating and maintain a culture of strong ethical behavior throughout all levels of an organizations workforce.