Sept. 22--A key internal goal for a company that wants to develop an ethical culture is for employees to feel comfortable "speaking the truth to those in power," a national expert says.
Ethics, says author and consultant Mick Ukleja, goes beyond not breaking laws or bending rules. It extends to taking into consideration other people's views.
Behaving like this can be seen simply as the right thing to do, yet it also can produce tangible benefits for an organization.
If NASA workers were encouraged to "speak the truth" to upper management, for example, the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster might have been avoided, Ukleja says.
"Some engineers saw foam break away during liftoff," he says of the malfunction that damaged the craft and ultimately caused its destruction. NASA's managers, though, chose to limit any investigation while the shuttle was in space.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board later concluded a rescue mission may have been possible.
Pointing out what might be uncomfortable or embarrassing truths to top leaders usually is seen as courageous because whistleblowers often face retaliation. The challenge, Ukleja says, is to make all employees feel their opinions are welcome and valuable.
The Long Beach, Calif.-based leader has developed ethical programs for many large companies including Boeing. He is president and CEO of LeadershipTraQ and founder of the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach.
Ukleja will speak in Tulsa on Thursday to the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium.
Along with encouraging employees to tell the truth, companies need to do the same when problems arise, he says.
Ukleja points to the examples set by Johnson & Johnson and Mattel. The drug maker faced a nightmare in 1982 when seven people died in Chicago from tainted Tylenol capsules. Mattel's crisis came in 2007 when it was discovered that 800,000 Barbie doll accessories and Fisher-Price toys might have lead paint.
"Both companies recalled all their products from the shelves," he said. "This cost them millions of dollars, but it also told the public that safety was their No. 1 concern. A few years later, each had regained their market share and even added to it."
Overall, he says, living with integrity isn't easy. "But living without it is impossible."
OK Ethics speaker
Mick Ukleja will speak on "The Ethics Challenge: Strengthening Your Integrity in a Greedy World."
When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday
Where: Doubletree Hotel Downtown, 616 W. Seventh St.
Cost: $25 for OK Ethics members, $35 for nonmembers
Register: Sign up online at tulsaworld.com/okethics by Monday.
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