Navigating integrity hurdles at workplace


Many professionals grapple with the decision to voice concerns, especially when it contradicts a higher authority. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In the corporate landscape along the lakeside of Kisumu, Achieng, a mid-level manager at a flourishing tech firm, faced a daunting challenge. Tasked with leading a diverse team through a high-stakes project, Achieng encountered questionable ethical decisions made by higher-ups that threatened to derail their hard work.

Despite the discomfort, Achieng wrestled with the decision to speak up. The fear of backlash or being dismissed for challenging the status quo weighed heavily on her, creating a palpable tension that resonated not just within her butt but also through her team.

This dilemma is not unique to Achieng. Many professionals grapple with the decision to voice concerns, especially when it contradicts a higher authority. The silence that follows not only stifles personal integrity creating cognitive dissonance in professionals but also can erode the collective morale and innovation of an organisation. It is within such contexts that the research by Khalil Smith, Heidi Grant, and David Rock offers clues as to a way forward. Their studies illuminate the psychological barriers to speaking up and propose strategies to navigate workplace integrity challenges effectively.

According to the research, acknowledging the psychological hurdles becomes the first step towards empowering individuals like Achieng to voice their concerns. Their research suggests that making an “if-then plan” can dramatically increase the likelihood of taking action. List all possible consequences of speaking up and your potential responses. Start with a clear delineation of your own personal values and where your lines in the sand exist whereby you will not tolerate violation of your own values either within your team or your organisation.

Then building on it with an if-then plan, by anticipating scenarios where ethical dilemmas may arise and planning a response, individual professionals can overcome the paralysis of uncertainty.

Regarding regular entity employees, the key lies in preparing and practising responses to potential ethical dilemmas. Developing clear, non-confrontational language focusing on the issue rather than personal accusations can facilitate open dialogue. Utilise the famous BCF statements that encompass: behaviour, consequences, then feelings.

Your behaviour (describe the behaviour) holds these consequences (explain the consequences of their behaviour) then show how it makes you feel. Avoid finger-pointing or making judgment calls. Being judgmental could include calling them names to coincide with their unethical actions. So, avoiding that then, therefore, becomes about fostering an environment where raising concerns is not seen as dissent but as a constructive contribution to the organisation’s integrity.

Next, boards of directors play a crucial role in encouraging a culture of openness and transparency. By requiring their executives to develop and then implement policies that protect and even reward whistleblowers, they can assure employees that their voices are not only heard but valued.

Incorporating regular feedback mechanisms and anonymous reporting tools can further demonstrate a commitment to ethical governance and empower individuals at all levels to speak up without fear of retribution, even from executives, since it is known that the board stands behind the process.

In conclusion, fostering a culture whereby speaking up gets encouraged, championed, and rewarded proves imperative for the health and success of any firm.

The research provides a roadmap for individuals and leaders alike to navigate the complexities of ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

In our earlier example, Achieng, like many others across Kenya who face integrity challenges in their companies, embracing the above strategies could be the first step towards creating a more transparent, accountable, and ethically robust workplace.

Have a management or leadership issue, question, or challenge? Reach out to Dr Scott through @ScottProfessor on X or on email: [email protected] 

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