Does Your Company Have a Conscience?

Fikret Sebilcioğlu
  • Fikret Sebilcioğlu          CFE, CPA, TRACE Anti-Bribery Specialist         
  • Managing Partner
  • Internal Controls&Forensic
  • E-mail to Fikret

Companies employ people with different moral values and expect them to act according to the company’s code of ethics. Since everybody has a conscience which is sustained by their moral values, can a company create a corporate conscience while it brings people with different moral values together?

Companies are made of people. In general, we think that people are good on average, although nobody is morally perfect. In “Essentials of Business Ethics”, Dennis Collins says: “Every human being has moral dilemmas in managing emotions like greed, anger, jealousy, lust, pride. Also, everyone has a unique moral point of view and a set of behavioral attitudes, created by his family, friends, religious and political leaders, or other moral models and cultures.”

On its website, Turkish Language Association defines conscience as a force which stimulates people to evaluate their actions and enables them to judge their moral values directly and instinctively. 

Let us clarify this definition a bit more. Conscience is an inner force which makes you do what you believe is right, even if you make an unpleasant, difficult or dangerous decision. In a sense, it functions as a part of our brain, saying whether the action we take is right or wrong. For example, if your conscience is not clear, you feel guilty thinking that your behavior is not fair. If you believe that what you are doing is right or not wrong, you will not feel guilty, and, your conscience will be clear.

Following this introduction, let us talk about the corporate environment. Companies employ people with different moral values and expect their employees to act according to the company’s code of ethics. It is of crucial importance and a serious challenge to companies to convey the expected ethical norms to employees with different moral values and to reach a common attitude.

Through ethics and compliance programs, companies aim to integrate the expected ethical behavior into the company’s DNA. It is necessary to develop effective tools to achieve that goal. I think of this whole process as a company’s attempt to create its own conscience. Like humans, companies try to create an environment of conscience and common ethical behavior through this process which needs to be revised and developed continuously. The perfect situation is when employees can apply this corporate conscience in decision-making process automatically and make ethical decisions.

How can a company create a corporate conscience then?  Is it possible to establish that conscience by identifying, writing and conveying the expected ethical norms?

It will be better to discuss the issue from a broader perspective of the creation of corporate conscience. That process of constructing and adjusting employees’ culture to make them harmoniously work together in spite of their differences can be designed and implemented through many functions. Let me explain these functions briefly:

  • Ethical leadership: (a) Top management’s approach to the formation of a company’s ethical culture as well as senior managers’ action as role models. (b) Their engagement in conveying the expected ethical norms to the employees directly. (c) Investigation and judgment of unethical and unlawful behaviors on a fair basis. (d) Rewarding and supporting honesty. (e) Being inclusive and making all employees a part of this effort to create an ethical culture.
  • Human: Hiring people with ethical standards, motivating and supporting the ethical work.
  • Communication: Identifying company’s expectations on ethical behaviours, conveying them to employees via ethics and compliance program.
  • Ethical decision-making process: Since an ethics and compliance program cannot possibly include all ethical dilemmas and responses to them, ensuring that the staff can go through a systematic process when making a business decision.
  • Training: (a) Informing all employees including senior executives about the ethics and compliance program through online and face to face training. (b) Practicing ethical dilemmas with the employees using examples from real business life and stimulating an open discussion.
  • Reporting misconducts: Reporting unethical and unlawful activities to proper managers without fear of retaliation.
  • Internal investigation: (a) Assessing reported misconducts and making decisions whether an investigation should be conducted or not (b) conducting the investigation impartially and fairly (c) taking actions after the investigation even if it is difficult.

I believe that a corporate conscience can be created in every business environment if the abovementioned elements are appropriately structured and harmonized.

Honesty is the most crucial ethical link between employees in a company. Unethical behavior undermines that component of a company’s culture and disturbs the employees’ conscience. In an environment where employees’ conscience is not clear, how can the company’s be?

I wish that your conscience and your company’s corporate conscience are always clear.