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Cambridge Judge Professor Talks Ethics in the Workplace

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The subject of ethics in business continues to be a hot-button topic. Recurring corporate scandals keeping the question of how to hire and train leaders who will do right in the face of ethically challenging situations top of mind at prominent organizations around the globe. David De Cremer, a professor of management studies at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, recently penned an article for Harvard Business Review outlining six traits that he argues can predict ethical behavior in potential employees. 

De Cremer, whose research focus includes corporate social responsibility, ethics, contemporary issues in leadership and trust as a business asset, teaches MBA, EMBA and executive level courses at Cambridge Judge. He has received several awards for his scientific work, including being named the most influential economist in the Netherlands (2009-2010) and a Global Thought Leader by the Trust Across America in 2016.

Beginning by stressing the importance of trust and openness within an organization’s culture, De Cremer’s recent HBR article goes on to examine how companies can better ensure and predict ethical behavior within their offices. According to De Cremer, it all starts with the hiring committee looking for and finding the right traits in their potential employees.

Key to an organization building an open culture is for it to “actively seek those individuals inclined to speak up when ethical challenges surface,” he suggests. De Creme arrived at the following six traits based on findings from the behavioral sciences.

6 Traits for Ethical Behavior

  1. Conscientiousness

Individuals who reflect conscientiousness are some of the most likely to notice when something is unethical. These people tend to be “careful, reflective and reliable,” which also makes them relatively responsible employees. Another benefit is that conscientious individuals also typically display higher levels of moral reasoning, which, in turn, decreases antisocial, unethical and criminal behavior.

  1. Moral Attentiveness

The second trait that hiring committees should look for is moral attentiveness, which describes individuals who are aware when there is an ethical dilemma. These people tend to see ethical issues more clearly than others.

  1. Duty Orientation

Of course, it’s not enough to simply recognize when there is a moral problem. Organizations that desire more trust and openness should also look to hire people with a strong sense of duty. These individuals “tend to be loyal and mission-oriented,” says De Cremer, which motivates them to take action when there is a perceived problem.

  1. Customer Orientation

Just as employees should be loyal to an organization, they should also be strongly driven by the needs of their clients. Individuals who prioritize customers are “more ethical because they value the others’ needs as highly as their own and create fewer conflicts of interest in their relationships with others,” De Cremer writes. These individuals tend to be more likely and willing to notice and address ethical violations.

  1. Assertiveness

Employees who recognize ethical dilemmas won’t be of value to an organization unless they are also the type of individual who will act on what they see. Assertiveness is essential to building an ethical workplace, particularly when it comes to hiring employees who won’t give in to pressure. Assertive people tend to question morally ambiguous situations, even if the rest of the group conforms.

  1. Proactivity

Finally, organizations should focus on hiring individuals who are proactive about making changes. When it comes to ethical issues, proactive people “more often and more quickly” engage “in acts of whistle-blowing,” according to De Cremer. Proactivity can be an especially valuable trait for companies that seriously stress the importance of ethics.

In the end, while all the above characteristics are highly useful for an organization, it’s important to remember “individuals do not act in isolation,” De Cremer stresses. The traits should be used to help develop a “blueprint of the kind of employee” a company should be looking for. However, the effectiveness of these features depends on the approach of the entire organization.

Beyond taking De Cremer’s classes, MBA students at Cambridge Judge interested in learning more about behavioral ethics and related fields can also choose to join the Organisational Leadership & Decision-Making group. Dedicated to research and teaching focused on understanding how individual human behavior shapes organizations and how those institutions, in turn, affect their employees, the group regularly conducts quantitative research, including running the Experimental Laboratory.

To learn more about De Cremer’s experience and various work, visit his personal website.

This post has been republished in its entirety from its original source,