© Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash
25. May 2023

How I help management teams to raise their ethical awareness

First, mind the wording. In my practice as a management consultant and executive coach, I have found that the word 'ethics' or 'morality' is seen as a highly abstract concept that creates a huge gap in how to integrate it into our daily work. As a result, we can easily feel overwhelmed, believe we will never be good enough to achieve it, and risk giving up on even trying. It also evokes childhood memories of the threatening index finger of our parents, teachers, policemen or priests, catapulting us into feelings of guilt and powerlessness rather than confidence to act responsibly.

Ethical awareness is based in 'shared' purpose discussions. In my experience, the best way to raise ethical awareness without naming it is to engage in a discussion about the shared purpose of your department, project, service, transformation or organization. Specifically, thinking about how your vision becomes a 'shared' purpose, automatically raises ethical awareness as it requires to shift the perspective: From what we offer, are, do or want to what impact and contribution we make (or could make) to others in this world - including our societies, communities and environment.

From vision to shared purpose in 3 hours. I usually start with a 'reverse engineering' exercise, inviting participants to bring their desired future into an embodied and living presence. They can choose a particular envisioning scenario, e.g. to work out the laudation for an award ceremony in 5 years' time. Of course, they are instructed to describe and visualize the positive impact they wish to have had on others and society as a whole. For most management teams, this creates a vibrant energy in the room, a mix of enlightening playfulness, co-creation, and 'aha' experiences that provides an inspired ground for the shared purpose brainstorming that follows.

Success is not about winning a competition. It’s about making a contribution, as psychology professor and bestselling author Adam Grant recently reminded us in his newsletter. This view characterizes the second part of the shared purpose discussion: I invite participants to shift their language and descriptions from what they are selling to what social impact they would and could create for the benefit of all. Not for each stakeholder group in isolation, such as customers or employees, but for the whole ecosystem. This goes beyond formulating a typical value proposition and requires cognitive flexibility and creativity to frame it from a higher purpose perspective. I remember that in some cases this brainstorming was so fruitful that the one-line descriptions made it into internal company documents or even external company brochures.

Support your team to help others succeed. Although this two-step approach can easily be extended to a full workshop day, I have found that in just 3 hours it is possible to stimulate collective thinking around a sense of common purpose.*) This may not be a substitute for more in-depth attempts to strengthen an ethical culture, such as those that e.g. Prof Dr Carmen Tanner and her team have been so thoughtfully and helpfully researching and proposing for more than two decades. But it seems to me to be a promising way to strengthen ethical awareness in a very practical way in conventional project or management team workshop discussions.

*) I offer a “Finding shared purpose” workshop kit on how to run such a 3 h session yourself (including a facilitation guide, a set of slides, and a 90-minute online mentoring course on how to apply it) on www.partnering-leadership.academy. Those of you who’d like to help your own team (or in case you are a consultant your client teams) to raise a sense of shared purpose and ethical awareness, will certainly appreciate it!

Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Dr. Eva Bilhuber
Human Facts AG
Founder | Managing Partner
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