Ethics and their place in training

Ethics used to be the province of arcane university philosophy departments. Now you can’t move for them. What does it mean for training and learning and development managers?

Ethics is pretty big in business these days. If you haven’t noticed then you can’t be much of a consumer. Consumerism, ethics, ecology and business are hitting off one another like molecules in a particle accelerator.

There are two main strands to business ethics: one is around sound and honest corporate governance and fiscal probity, while the other is concerned with matters environmental. The former has been a hot topic for many years. But, after the antics of Nick Leeson, Bernie Ebbers and their ilk, it became evenhotter.

This prompted some of the great and the good of commerceto take an ever stronger line on business ethics. In the US, the Sarbannes-Oxley rules were devised to help ensure corporate rectitude. In the UK, the findings of the 1991 Cadbury Committee drove corporate business ethics. But ethics are a continuum and now we have much huffing and puffing about the ones practised by private equity fund managers.

On the green front, business has seen ethics as a way of driving product and brand development, with a view to turning a more honourable penny than via non-ethical products. Thus McDonald’s has pledged to make the most ethical cups of coffee on the British high street. Experience indicates that some British consumers will pay quite a premium to buy ethical products.

So where does this leave training and learning and development? What role does ethics have to play here?

Apart from the fall-out from corporate social responsibility (CSR), it’s fundamentally about the morality of loyalty. Is the training/learning and developmentmanager loyal above all to the employer or to the employee or delegate? Or both?

There’s no doubt where the loyalty of some of training’s uber-martinets lie: wholly and solely with the employer. They are the ones who will argue that training and development should be focused solely on meeting business needs.

How wise is this?Well if this employer-centric approach is followed relentlessly, it may well diminish employee loyalty and commitment. Staffwill not necessarily see the corporate training and learning and developmentpath as one that will give them the fulfilment they want from work.

Younger professional staff, especially, tend to expect their personal development needs to be at least partly met by whatever learning and developmentpath they follow at work. Sothe ethical training and learning and developmentmanager should bear that in mind when devising learning, training and mentoring programmes.

Finally, back to CSR. I’m glad to report that delegates – high–performers apparently –from business consultancy Convergys recently built a badger watching platform near the Falls of Clyde in Lanarkshire as part of a teambuilding weekend. Let’s hope it was an ethical win-win for both high–performers and badgers.


Talking of teambuilding events, I never cease to be less than gob-smacked by some of the activities dreamt up by purveyors of same.

Take Orb360. These freewheelersfrom Brighton have rolled out a harum-scarum “package”.It involves two delegates being harnessed inside a giant inflatable orb and rolled along the South Downs. Once hurtling down a hill, speeds of up to 30 mph can be attained.

“There is nothing like an adrenaline rush to get people talking and laughing,” says Orb360 founder and director Paul Butler. “I like to think that a team which does those two things will stay together and be more productive.”

Indeed – as they say in the bars of Whitley Bay: the team that vomits together, sticks together.

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