Ethical Performance and the Future of Work: How Can We as Consultants Contribute so that the Future of Work Brings Better Ethical Performance


Natalia is a Systemic Leadership Coach and Organizational Development Consultant, founder of Eudaimonia Solutions and Co-Founder of Unleash Leadership. After 25 years of international experience as an entrepreneur and executive, today she supports leaders and teams throughout Europe in scaling their capacity to fulfill their mission, provoking insights and nurturing intuition and inspiration, and eliciting deep transformation by getting to the core.

Business Corruption & Wrongdoings

According to an article published at on April 16th, 2017, “a representative survey of 1,000 people by Transparency International in the SonntagsZeitung found that 23% of Swiss considered business managers corrupt. While 13% thought religious leaders and 11% thought politicians were open to bribery, the figure was only 4% for police officers.”

According to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, Switzerland is 5th least corrupt country out of 176 and we can only imagine what the situation is in other countries. On the issue of private sector corruption worldwide, Transparency International publishes that “almost a fifth of executives surveyed by Ernst & Young claimed to have lost business to a competitor who paid bribes. More than a third felt corruption was getting worse.”

Corruption is not the only reason businesses make the headlines. There has been more than one scandal with epic proportions among which Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to name just a few, leaving us wonder…

Why? Why so Many Corporate Screw-ups?

Why good companies attracting the best professionals allow that to happen? The easiest is to say that people (especially top managers) are just bad and greedy and others are not so bad but need to take a refresher course in ethics. The easiest but not the most correct.

Guido Palazzo, professor of corporate ethics at the University of Lausanne, was quoted in the above article telling the SonntagsZeitung: “while many companies had tightened controls and created departments to ensure the law was followed, at the same time pressure to increase profits and reduce costs had increased. This could force staff to turn to illegal methods, he believed.” He added: “in most cases corruption isn’t the result of any character flaws on the part of employees but of aggressive targets set by the companies.”

I couldn’t agree more. Corporate screw-ups in most cases have nothing to do with character flaws. In normal circumstances, most people want to do the right thing.

Also, it is very easy to just blame it on specific people or companies but we get a different perspective if we look at the whole, find the patterns and look for the intrinsic reasons behind.

In a recent article I quoted what Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT, recently wrote in relation to the VW scandal, “No engineer wakes up in the morning and thinks: OK, today I want to build devices that deceive our customers and destroy our planet. Yet it happened.”

How Can We As Consultants Contribute so that the Future of Work Brings Better Ethical Performance?

Many of the startups that emerge in the last years appear to be more ethical. They are often purpose-driven and stand behind plausible causes. However, as stress piles up and they grow in number of people, they often face the same problems as their grownup predecessors. How do we assist organizations so that this does not happen?

First, we need to understand that ethical performance is less influenced by rational policies, procedures, morals and norms and is more dependent on the type of organizational culture. That includes how people collaborate, take decisions, approach problems and learn.

And that’s nothing new. The rhetoric of corporate values and corporate culture has been here for a while. The walls of offices are full of beautiful statements even in the organizations with the worst ethical performance.

However, how do organizations move from ethics and values being a decoration to something we truly embody?

First, Let’s See What to Look For

In my experience as both a corporate manager and a management consultant, here are some symptoms which are sure signs that the organizational culture is unhealthy:

1. People are not readily accepting that their way of seeing things could be wrong.
2. The same people are always hijacking meetings and the decision-making process.
3. You almost never hear fundamentally different points of view. Diversity is unwelcome.
4. People are scared for their jobs. They are scared to speak up and to be themselves.
5. There is no energy in the organization. Many feel drained and even burned out.
6. Management complains that there is no initiative. Employees complain nothing ever changes.
7. People complain that meetings are boring and meaningless, or there is no time for discussions.
8. People are not interested in being promoted.
9. There are written rules and procedures but they are not followed.
10. People often can be heard saying: „don’t put your heart into this!” or „this is not my job!“
11. You can hear often „that’s impossible!“ or „this is how we do it here!“
12. Only financial results are being measured and awarded.
13. The vision, mission and values of the organization have not been revised for a long time.
14. Office politics and “kitchen talk” prevail over constructive and open dialogue.
15. Individual intelligence and rationale is valued more than collective intelligence and intuition.

The Remedy: Organizational Culture and Full-spectrum Consciousness

I believe many organizations genuinely care. They genuinely want to create an environment that minimizes risk of unethical behavior. However, they face the problem that important factors, related to the organizational culture, remain invisible and therefore unmanaged.

Every organization that wants to predict whether an organization is of high risk of corruption and other wrongdoings, should not look at the announced values, written procedures, “zero-tolerance” and “whistle-blowing” policies. It should also not expect that procedures and their enforcement alone can do the job.

The answers are hidden in the culture of the human system – a team, organization, community, society. To predict the risk of wrongdoing and the chance of success:

  • look at the physical and financial aspects of work and how safe people feel
  • study the quality of relationships, the capacity for effective communication and how safe and mature are people emotionally
  • examine the adequacy of the structure, practices and management style to the organizational and risk strategy
  • check what is being measured and awarded in the organization
  • assess the level of tolerance of diversity and the existence or lack of conditions for innovation
  • examine decision-making and check whether learning is focused on building awareness, reducing blind spots and eradicating obsolete mental models
  • assess the level of authenticity and wholeness, as well as the openness to opportunities
  • evaluate the quality and level of integration of the mission and vision of the organization,
  • study the level of integration of sustainability and social responsibility policies
  • and last but not least- assess whether the organization as a whole and its leadership are full-spectrum.

That is why the Whole-System Culture Navigator© was developed – a unique methodology which assesses the capacity of the culture to support the implementation of the organizational and risk strategy. It integrates the Seven Levels of Organizational Consciousness model of Barrett Values Centre, builds upon extensive international experience with start-ups, grown-ups and corporations, and capitalizes on other leading works of our times such as Theory U, Systems Thinking, Art of Hosting, and Reinventing Organizations.

In conclusion, if the intent is to have an organizational culture that sustainably supports ethical performance and the implementation of the business strategy, organizations need to foster the emotional, intuitive, spiritual, cultural, systems and collective intelligence of everybody in the organization, and constantly measure and invest in the culture they would like to foster.

Whether it is in an organization or society at large, it is not about rules and procedures, norms and morals; it is about mastering a whole new mindset.


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