Last time, the need for ethics training was explored. There is general agreement we need to incorporate ethics into business training, but it is not an easy subject to address. This month, we will look at some specific strategies to provide ethics training.

Ethics is a big subject. One training session can’t possibly address all the facets of ethics, so narrow the focus to a specific problem by clearly identifying the issue. Is social media the problem? Confidentiality? Theft? Personal business on company time? Lax attendance or chronic lateness? Gossip?

Rather than focusing on traditional philosophical ideas of ethics, which involves understanding the basis of ethical thought, most work situations need to be addressed in a practical, real world manner. According to “The Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers” (McNamara),1 ethics training for business is too theoretical, with very little “how-to” information. For anyone looking to understand business ethics, this guide is a helpful primer.

Begin by assessing the current situation. What are the rules or policies already in place to address these issues? Are they clear? Do they make sense? Do they exist at all? Do the work rules or policies need to be updated to address new situations or changing technology?

The next question is: “Do these rules, policies and guidelines align with ethical principles to reflect corporate values?” And finally, does the company have a Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct?

Codes of Conduct are the outward manifestation of corporate values. They provide ethical guidance to employees to navigate difficult decision-making and keep the company out of legal trouble. Assure that everyone understands the Code of Conduct and/or the policies, rules and guidelines of the organization and what consequences can result when the rules are not upheld. This understanding provides a basis for the ongoing training.

Ethics training is not a once and done session, but ongoing so as to internalize the values. Training should be real world based, using actual situations from the organization when possible. Otherwise, situations should be designed to be representative of some actual event where ethics plays a role, and the answer is not a black and white choice. Most ethical problems are shades of gray with a best answer, not a perfect one. Since this is such an important and sensitive area, planning the subject matter and the discussion points is critical for success. Again, the Complete Guide noted above is a good resource for sample problems and also provides checklists and methods to aid in decision-making.

It is important to identify the “don’t” list: Don’t point fingers, don’t name names, don’t single out people; the focus of the training should be behavior based, not personal. Any time training occurs, especially situational training, the possibility exists that attendees will raise specific questions about a rule, a person, or an incident. Expect it and plan how to deflect it or redirect the subject.

Frame of reference training is being used more frequently to study bias, providing a framework for recognition and understanding of preconceived notions, including sensitivities and blind spots that color people’s perceptions.2 Understanding sometimes oppositional points of view can characterize ethical dilemmas and provide a good foundation to internalize ethics. For example: in situations where the manager or organization has a rule and employees don’t consistently follow it, an open discussion session of why the rule exists, what the rationale for the rule is, and most importantly, how all those involved are impacted by either following or breaking the rule. The discussion should also include any potential legal implications. Lateness is a concrete example. It is one thing to hear from a manager that the staffer is late and be reminded of the work hours. It takes on a different dimension when another staffer discusses how that lateness affects the work, the co-workers, the morale of the workplace and the customers. This type of frame of reference training allows all involved to understand the facts as others see them and the impact of behaviors on the workplace from multiple points of view.3 It also provides a window on the rationale of workplace rules and policies, producing better judgment and behavior as members begin to internalize how their actions impact the overall organization.

One online training program4 in ethics included these subject headings:

  • Expectations/code of conduct
  • Ethical decision making
  • Workplace fairness and respect
  • Respecting company assets
  • Conflict of interest

All of these subjects can be addressed using the frame of reference training, with some preparation. Bring management into the discussions as well, for the perspective that many workers may not be privy to. The inclusion of upper management also reinforces the importance of ethics at all levels.

While ethics is a complex and weighty subject, a company focus on preventative training is better than dealing with an ethical lapse that may damage the organization’s image or lead to legal action.5


  5. Margolis, D.,” Learning to Right the Wrongs,” Chief Learning Officer, Jan. 2012, p. 35.

Ann Marie Dinkel, RLATG, has over 20 years of facility management experience, and serves as adjunct faculty for SUNY Delhi and Delaware Technical Community College. For the past several years, she has been a consultant and trainer in Laboratory Animal Science. Ann is an account manager for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states for Alternative Design.