The Reduced Value of Ethics Training Minus Values Training

Just for grins,I googled "Ethics Training" and glanced through everything showing up on the first page of search results. The listings on the first page were roughly evenly divided between government ethics training programs for specific departments, and commercially available corporate ethics training packages. Several things hit me as I looked through their respective websites:

1. The focus was almost exclusively on compliance rather than on ethics per se. Most had either a heavy or exclusive focus on teaching the rules and, in some cases, on the expected penalties for breaking the rules. In other words, the real focus was on compliance rather than on ethics.

2. Only one site explicitly mentioned the importance of values in building and maintaining professional ethics however that mention was tucked away a couple of pages off the home page.

3. That I was able to tell, none of these sites promoted attention to the identification and mitigation of personal risks for ethics problems. They were, instead, all geared towards either 'ethics by decree' (Tell 'em what you expect them to do and how heads will roll if they don't comply.) or 'ethics by legislation' (Tell 'em the rules and expect that'll give 'em what they need.).

I have no doubt that some of these programs do a great job of telling people what to do. However, I don't understand how a truly credible ethics training program can neither place the importance of values somewhere front and center nor build in some ways to personalize the program to allow for the fact that different people have different values and working styles coming onto the job each day and that those different values and working styles are going to affect both the nature and degree of their particular personal risk for ethical problems. (Plus, I would expect that a fully effective program would provide easily implemented ideas and tools for mitigating those personal risks once identified.)

Why do I think that values training is such an important component of truly effective ethics training? Well… there are lots of reasons, actually, but the most critical one is that the rules these folks are teaching are based on values and the nature of those values is important information. Without understanding the values on which the rules are based, how are employees supposed to clearly know what to do when there isn't a rule for something? Obviously, knowing the rules is critically important. However, in the absence of understanding the values on which they are based, the employees taking these courses will be at a critical disadvantage as will their companies, departments, and agencies. Why? Though they will know how to better follow the rules, and that's terrific, in isolation that's hardly a winning strategy for building and maintaining an individual's professional ethics let alone helping to build and maintain a true culture of ethics in their organizations. Doing that requires a firm and clear grasp of the values on which those rules are built.

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