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Ethics as Best Practice

Submitted by: Center for Ethical Leadership

Categories: Business Ethics

Posted: Mar 25, 2003 – 11:00 PM EST


Northwest Public Utility Says Ethical Leadership Helps It Achieve Peak Performance

Mar. 25 /CSRwire/ - Seattle, WA - When Seattle Public Utilities formed in 1997, it was the result of a merger of two city departments, representing several different public service agencies. Like any organization or company facing a merger or consolidation, the new utility faced the potential for conflict among managers and employee groups, the lack of a cohesive culture, and unclear lines of communication and accountability.

"We valued the unique approaches that people brought from their different areas," says Joanne Peterson, Director of Human Resources. "But we were fragmented in our leadership style. We needed to build capacity for leadership around a common vision."

In February 2003, SPU presented a case study of its successful approach to these challenges, as one of three management best practices at a conference of other utility agencies from Washington State, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Arizona and Colorado. A "best practice" is an approach that creates superior performance by enhancing revenue, efficiency or operations.

The leadership best practice that SPU presented at the "Best Practice Exchange" is a program designed with the help of the Center for Ethical Leadership, a Seattle-based non-profit organization, to address organizational culture and leadership issues through an emphasis on values and ethics.

"Core values are what motivate every individual, and shared core values are the foundation for agreements and cooperation among diverse people," says Pat Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development for the Center. "Our program for SPU was designed to bring about an awareness of values to increase productivity and to give the organization tools to create the positive, productive culture it desired."

A collaborative approach based on core values is a striking contrast to the approach taken by many companies to concerns about corporate ethics or cultural change. Many programs take a compliance-oriented approach that focuses on ethics policies and scenario-based instructional methods.

The Center for Ethical Leadership‚s consulting with organizations like SPU and Boeing, which has been a client the last three years, is based on a leadership development model created by founder Bill Grace, Ph.D.

"We don't believe that ethics can be mandated," in a compliance-oriented manner, Dr. Grace says, "but ethical behavior can be learned." Better known for its Youth Leaders of Promise program, a leadership development program for high school students, the Center applies its models to organizations and communities. "Our approach builds on the accountability of individuals, living their core values, to foster positive change for the common good in broader groups, cultures and communities," Dr. Grace says.

The SPU Directions program was designed to address three levels in the organization: senior and mid-level managers, and "leaders at large" or individuals without direct reports but who impact their peers at a project level. In creating this third group, SPU acknowledges that leadership is not always a matter of position or title. The program included mentoring and seven seminars on such topics as ethical leadership and ethical decision-making, risk taking, conflict negotiation, communication, and a concept called "gracious space."

"When groups create 'gracious space‚' they create agreements among themselves about how they will treat one another at vulnerable moments," Hughes says. "Gracious space allows organizations to capture valuable new insights and learning by inviting divergent or dissenting views in a positive dialogue, and fostering the trust and respect that allows people to admit mistakes and 'learn in public.'"

Gracious space is one of the most important aspects of SPU‚s program according to Peterson. "Our mission was to build a program that focused on recognizing core values and respect for others. The concept of gracious space has been a good fit for SPU's program and has been embraced by our workforce," she says. "In participant feedback, it consistently receives the highest marks as something that most resonated with people."

SPU‚s program has trained more than 200 people within its 1,300 workforce. It is planning to develop an alumni program with the Center's help leverage the knowledge and perspectives of a diverse alumni group, and foster collaborative solutions to complex utility challenges.

The SPU program demonstrates many of the elements that the Center for Ethical Leadership has identified for creating ethical leadership within an organization:

§ Encourage Individuals to Live Their Core Values -- Organizations should help individual employees identify their core values and encourage them to live these values at work, at home and in the community.

§ Create a Supporting Environment -- Creating a culture that supports ethical behavior means applying an understanding of core values to the question "how do we want to treat each other in the workplace?" and then designing or redesigning policies and procedures to support shared values.

§ Consider All Stakeholders -- Apply the concept of core values to how the organization treats its employees and owners as well as its vendors/suppliers, customers, community and other stakeholders, addressing the organization‚s potential to either do harm or render aid within the context of its business purpose.

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The Center for Ethical Leadership is a non-profit leadership development and training organization. We help people identify their core values, apply those values to important decisions and live their values in service of the common good at home, at work and in the community. Our model is used in schools, businesses and non-profit organizations, and by community leadership development organizations. Our goal is to help promote an inner life of integrity, which shapes individual behavior and enables people to work together for the common good.

For more information, please contact:

Kathleen Hosfeld Hosfeld and Associates
Phone: +1-206.624.4990


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