As human rights activist and businesswoman Anita Roddick once said, “Being good is good business.” Today, many working people seem to foster that belief. Seventy-five percent of employees say they’d take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company. And 64 percent say they won’t even take a job if an organization doesn’t have corporate responsibility practices.
Businesses that want to stay competitive and attract candidates have to realize that people have high expectations for organizations. Many people now champion the act of leading with your values and standing up for what you believe in. And if businesses aren’t willing to adjust their practices to be more ethical, many workers may have to stand up for what they believe in–put in their two weeks notice–then walk toward the door.
Our Guest: Business Ethics Thought Leader Richard Shell
On the #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Richard Shell, Chair of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His forthcoming book, The Conscience Code: Lead with Your Values, Advance Your Career, explains how people can lead with their core values at work. Richard has worked with public school teachers, labor unions, nurses, and hospital administrators to help them become more effective professionals. He has also taught students ranging from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs, Navy SEALs, FBI hostage negotiators, and United Nations peacekeepers.
Many believe that leading with your values requires a kind of heroic courage. Often, people draw up images of whistleblowers like Tyler Schultz, who helped bring to light that the health technology company Theranos ignored quality-control checks and doctored medical device research. From Richard’s perspective, however, the experience of leading with values at work can vary depending on circumstance.
“You really don’t have to be ‘courageous.’ You just have to be settled on what your values are,” Richard says. “Then you need to decide what’s negotiable and what’s not negotiable, and go from there.”
Once you’ve decided what’s important to you and are ready to start leading with your values, you can make a plan. Before blowing the whistle or simply running away from tough situations, you can look for ways to work with others without having your ethics challenged.
“Managing value conflicts to a successful outcome is possible. And that doesn’t always mean you blow whistles, and it doesn’t mean you go and confront people,” Richard says. “It means you think about the situation you’re in, the company you’re in, the network you have, and you strategically advance to a solution. I’m really trying to help people stand and fight instead of cut and run.”
Recognize Your Values, Then Find ‘The Power of Two’
If you can’t reach reconciliation, want to stand, fight, and begin leading with your values–what should you do to take action? According to Richard, you can harness “The Power of Two,” or rather, find a buddy who can support you.
“Social psychology research shows that alone, a person is very likely to yield to authority or cave into peers. But as soon as there is another person, a trusted partner who would speak the truth, that one person becomes empowered to speak the truth and push back,” Richard says.
From there, two people can become three, then four, then 40, and more. By using the strength of social networks, causes can get more support. Examples of this, Richard says, include Google employees walking out worldwide to protest sexual harassment.
“We need to give employees tools to effectively recognize the situations they’re in. And then help them save their souls so that they don’t live a life of remorse about these moments. They should have some pride in how they handle it,” Richard says. “Fortunately, now we’ve got the #MeToo Movement and other movements for social justice … Normally, in the past, people have just absorbed and internalized hurtful things. Now we’re like: ‘Wait a minute. We don’t have to put up with this.’”