Business

The Importance of Safety and Ethics in the Future Workforce

Adam Lenihan (left) with Dr Mark Harvey discuss the importance of safety and ethics for the future workforce.

I recently caught up with Dr Mark Harvey to get his thoughts ahead of the QUTeX Real World Futures (RWF) event on the topic of the future workforce.

Mark helps organisations improve their bottom line, performance and outcomes through enhanced ethics, culture, safety and leadership, which is the result of two concurrent careers. Mark has worked in law enforcement for over thirty years, including a variety of integrity roles within law enforcement and oversight agencies.

In the last decade, Mark has also worked as a lecturer (including QUT’s Executive MBA and QUTeX Short Courses) and a consultant helping public sector agencies and corporates.

Healthy thriving organisations recognise the importance and risks of safety and ethics in their workforce – Dr Mark Harvey

I wanted to quiz Mark about the upcoming RWF event, understand why this conversation about the safety and ethics of the future workforce is important, and discover some of the risks and costs of inaction.

1) In your opinion, what is a major challenge for organisations operating in the current volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment?

In my experience, the larger the organisation, the greater the challenge and lack of understanding risks and opportunities caused by what is known as LINCS, which is a combination of:

    • Lack of independent analysis
    • Ice-berging
    • No systems approach
    • Compartmentalising and Silos
    • Single source & self-interest
2) Considering your areas of expertise, why are we seeing more conversations around the topic of ethics, safety and leadership?

Leaders are realising a number of things. Firstly, that traditional approaches to improving ethics, safety and culture have not worked. This creates undue pressure and current practices of deploying ineffective or ill-informed resources just perpetuates issues. In the absence of effective solutions, this pressure may be unrelenting and result in poor decision-making. I believe, until significant improvements are made, the pressure will flow to bottom line results and impact the achievement of other, wider organisational goals. 

Secondly, leaders are starting to understand the way people are treated within organisations and the way in which the organisation’s total culture operates impacts outcomes to a much larger extent than previously thought. Also, both the increasing and overall diversity of the workforce and the need for ethical practices is requiring more thoughtful motivation and inclusion strategies.

Lastly, the plethora of research showing the financial upside of ethical corporate and individual behaviour and the corresponding downside of unethical corporate and individual behaviour has made the development of ethical practices an existential challenge for the corporate world.

Unfortunately, leaders too often look inwards for answers to these challenges In my conversations with leaders, this approach often presents more issues than solutions. Siloed thinking, parochial interests, lack of external assessment or validation.

3) What does recent evidence show about a systems approach to ethics, culture, health, and safety?

Recent research by authorities such as Trevino and Nelson (2021)[1] and sources such as Deloitte (2021)[2] demonstrate that both ethical and unethical conduct within organisations are the product of how the systems within the organisation align to promote ethical or, if not done well, unethical behaviour. Recent corporate incidents show the results of failures in this regard.

A leader in the field, Associate Professor Alistair Ping, notes complex environments negate rational logical thinking because it is impossible to accurately project forwards. Ethics in an organisational setting fits this mould and hence a systems approach is needed. Systems thinking tells us that poor ethics, culture and safety is not a problem to be solved at a point in time, but rather an issue to manage using systems and processes that self-correct and continuously improve an organisation.

Reflecting on my own research and interests, I have developed the Raise the Bar Methodology. Raise the Bar (RTB) is effective because it is a comprehensive systems approach that combines research and practical application. RTB accounts for the situational and contextual factors relevant to an organisation’s total operating environment. Furthermore, RTB analysis presents practical solutions across the required 26 systems/criteria, which drive bottom line and positive outcomes for organisations.

Those systems/criteria are: Values, Behaviours, Understanding Staff, Competitive Advantage, Organisational Factors, Opportunities, Positive Workplaces, Workplace Pressures, Workplace Orientations, Support Mechanisms, Achieving Goals, Customer/Client Practices, Board, Senior Leaders, Managers and Supervisors, Employees, Active Ethical Leadership, Leadership Training, Decision Making, Motivating, Corporate Analysis, Integrity Systems, Compliance, Internal Communications, Outbound Communications and Internal Investigations.

4) So, is this about risk mitigation or gaining a competitive advantage?

It’s about both.
Comprehensively managing the risk of unethical behaviour and or corporate practice will avoid reputation and bottom-line damage and it will lead to competitive advantage.

Deloitte (2021, p. 26 & 28)[3] found:

Ethical behaviour and infrastructure are also potentially associated with better financial outcomes for businesses. This link has mainly been explored in the context of the corporate social responsibility literature. Firms, which act ethically and have ethical infrastructure in place, are likely to enjoy improved relationship with their stakeholders and build a greater trust with the broader public. This can manifest in reduced production costs from improved supplier relations, increased work engagement from positive employee relations, lower compliance and administration costs from better government relations, and higher sales from stronger customer relations.

Engaging in ethical conduct and having strong ethical infrastructure can also potentially improve the share market performance of a business, particularly in the form of reduced-price volatility during negative market shocks. Lins, Servaes and Tamayo (2017) find that firms with high social capital experienced stock returns between 4 to 7 percentage points higher than firms with low social capital – even during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

In creating RTB, I wanted to provide organisations with detailed ways to maximise competitive advantage, but specifically:

      • employee and potential employee engagement
      • customer and potential customer engagement
      • partner and peer engagement.

But, most importantly, improved trust in the sector or industry. This is what will ultimately drive success for everyone. The by-products of working ethically and having ethical infrastructure aren’t bad either, like greater operational efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

What’s next?

You can connect with Dr Mark Harvey on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-mark-harvey-280784101/
and find out more information about Raise the Bar via: https://raisethebar.solutions/

Mark runs courses at the QUT Graduate School of Business, check out the QUTeX PD Planner for a list of his upcoming short courses, or sign up to the QUTeX Connect monthly newsletter.

Lastly, if this blog has touched on any challenges you would like to unpack with the support of QUTeX expertise, enquire about our ‘Unpackathons’ via: qutex-custom@qut.edu.au

Join us for Real-World Futures event: The Future Workforce: A Real-World Perspective on the Safety, Productivity, Health, and Well-Being, on Wednesday, 23 June 2021, where, specialist in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Dr Rob McCartney, will present on the convergence of physical safety, psychosocial safety and ethical systems and draw on some contemporary challenges that, if left unaddressed, will have significant implications for the future workforce. This event is free but registration is essential. Find out more.

Real World Futures


References:

[1] Trevino, K & Nelson, K. (2021). Managing Business Ethics – Straight Talk about how to do it right. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 5th Ed. In Ethical Systems (2021). Retrieved from https://www.ethicalsystems.org/managing-business-ethics/

[2] Deloitte (2021) The ethical advantage. The economic and social benefits of ethics to Australia. The Ethics Centre commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to develop a framework to quantify the economic and social benefits of a more ethical Australia. Retrieved from: The ethical advantage: the economic and social benefits of ethics to Australia | Deloitte Australia | Deloitte Access Economics

[3] Deloitte (2021) The ethical advantage. The economic and social benefits of ethics to Australia. The Ethics Centre commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to develop a framework to quantify the economic and social benefits of a more ethical Australia. Retrieved from: The ethical advantage: the economic and social benefits of ethics to Australia | Deloitte Australia | Deloitte Access Economics

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Adam Lenihan is a Corporate Partnership Manager at QUT, leading a portfolio of corporate education partnerships in the mining, resources, construction, and utilities sectors. Adam works with his clients to develop a thorough understanding of their executive and professional development needs to deliver high-impact, real world education partnerships and leadership development programs. Adam’s partnership activities for QUT have resulted in a range of specially designed programs that have harnessed the University’s capabilities to develop leaders and equip organisations with the skills and confidence to succeed in complex, ambiguous, future-focussed and emergent environments. Adam holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Security Studies, a Bachelor of Creative Industries (BCI), and is recognised as a Fellow of the Institute of Managers and Leaders (FIML) and in 2019 was awarded the Chartered Manager (CMgr) designation by the Chartered Management Institute.

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