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The actions of leaders and the quality of their communication are critical factors in embedding an ethical culture.

These are key findings from IoIC’s ethics survey, released at the Ethics in Internal Communication Summit in September 2013 in London.

Respondents said that the most important factor in creating a sustainable ethical culture was ‘Leaders who lead by example’ with 95% rating this as very important, and 5% as important (i.e. 100% of respondents).

A culture of transparency, openness and honesty’ came second, rated by 84% as very important and 14% as important.

Clear organisational values’ came third – 67% rating it as very important and 30% as important.

When asked to rate internal communication activities in terms of their importance in embedding ethical culture, leadership issues were also high on communicators’ list. The most important activity was seen as ‘Promoting open/two-way communication’; 96% rated this as very important or important (74% and 22%).

This was followed by ‘Helping leaders understand and fulfil their communication responsibilities’ at 94% (62% and 32%) and ‘Supporting leaders/managers in projecting themselves as open, honest and ethical’ at 91% (52% and 39%).

The survey also revealed that gaining employee trust was proving difficult for many leaders. 34% categorised employees’ level of trust in their leaders as ‘neutral’, while another 28% said it was low (24%) or very low (4%).

There were also indications that the public sector faced particular challenges in relation to leaders inspiring trust in their employees, with 60% of public sector respondents saying levels were low or very low (40% and 20% respectively), compared to 21% in the private sector (20% low, 1% very low).

Other findings include:

  • 83% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘My organisation has a clear ethics policy/code of conduct’
  • 58% of respondents thought their organisation’s culture was very ethical (21%) or ethical (37%), with a further 29% considering it to be quite ethical. 7% believed it was not very ethical
  • 72% said that communication practitioners could influence their company’s ethical policy, and 76% their organisation’s ethical performance. However, there was some degree of uncertainty around these questions with 20% saying they did not know in relation to policy, and 18% in relation to performance.

IoIC chief executive Steve Doswell (pictured) comments: ‘These findings illustrate that, while an ethics policy and code of conduct provide important foundations, some other factors are critical to achieving a sustainable ethical culture – and foremost amongst these are leaders seen to behave in an authentic fashion, who communicate effectively and encourage open, honest, two-way communication.

‘The survey also shows that a significant proportion of communicators do not feel well equipped to deal with ethical issues, and there is considerable uncertainty about what they can and should aim to achieve for their organisation in relation to its ethical performance.

‘The Ethics in Internal Communication Summit, co-hosted with the Reputation Institute – and this survey – are the first in a series of initiatives to continue over the coming months, in which we will explore the ethical issues and challenges facing internal communicators and provide guidance on how to tackle them.’

A detailed report on ethics in internal communication, produced by IoIC’s Advanced Diploma graduates, will be published later in the year.

* 132 internal communication practitioners responded to IoIC’s online survey.

Further information on the survey is available below:

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