Elements in a global ethics training program

Question: You are a high level manager for a corporation that has recently expanded into the global market. You have been asked to manage an interdepartmental team that will help you to create a global ethics training program. Imagine that your team has very little, if any, experience with ethics training or international management. Create a memorandum to your team that explains the need for an ethics training program, the benefits of an ethics training program, and how the program will be implemented. Make sure to explain the key elements in a global ethics training program and the global cultural dimensions in detail.

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As multinational corporations approach the issue of ethics training programs, the level of complexity increases greatly due to the intricacies of doing business in a global environment. The more countries in which a firm does business, the more potentially different cultural beliefs need to be addressed in their global ethics training programs. The increased level of business complexity is based on the variation of ethical, cultural, and legal diversity the firm must address in its ethical vision. This can be especially challenging when there are different interpretations of how doing the right thing is related to ethical behavior. 14 Jackson recommends a number of key elements in any global ethics training program.

Morally Sensitive Cultural Education

The firm must understand that employees in other parts of the world will interpret ethical information through their cultural lens. As a result, firms must be aware of the cultural differences in the countries in which they do business. Furthermore, the firms must ensure that the information presented to their employees in different countries will not be misinterpreted based on the cultural grounding of the employees.

Provide Education on International Human Rights Not Only on Foreign Law Compliance

As a global- focused firm, the responsibility of the firm is to embrace global ethical is-sues to guarantee that the ethical vision is consistent around the world. As a result, by adopting a blanket stance on international human rights, which is relayed in the ethics training program, the employees will not have to address any ambiguity in the message by the firm. Try to Get Beyond Rule Formalism Firms need to focus on presenting strong, rational, principled judgments in their ethics training programs instead of a checklist- based compliance focus. By fixating on rules, firms give up the opportunity of presenting the global ethical picture to all their employees. In addition, rules- based approaches work only when the rules are still valid. The firm does not want to depend on rule makers to dictate the ethical vision of the company.

Presenting a Rational Dialogue for Important International Issues When There Is Dissent

Firms must present a rational, moral dialogue to impart their viewpoints pertaining to global ethical issues in their global training program. If the firm cannot justify its position, it may be time to revisit the position. Furthermore, firms must not only tolerate, but encourage debate within the training program on important global ethical issues. As a learning organization, global firms must learn to adapt to changing global viewpoints.

Global Cultural Dimensions and Ethics Training Programs

In order for a firm to implement an effective global ethics training program, it needs to understand how different cultural dimensions can impact both the message of the programs and how the message is presented to its employees around the world. Ex-tending the work of Geert Hofstede, Weaver recommends that ethics training pro-grams should be adjusted to take into consideration these culture differences. Table shows the dichotomies related to global cultural dimension.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualism focuses on the achievement of individual goals, while collectivism focuses on the attainment of group- based goals. Individualists will abide by ethical standards to satisfy and/ or protect their self- interests. Collectivists will comply with ethical standards if they are based on the ethical norms of the group. As a result, individual- based rewards and punishment for ethical behavior would have a minimal impact in a country with a collectivism- based culture. In addition, adversarial and legalistic ethical tools such as grievance committees, investigations officers, and external ethics auditors would conflict with the desire for collectivism- based cultures to maintain group harmony because these tools would identify single individuals to blame for the unethical behavior. In addition, internal communication ethical tools such as an ethics hotline would be considered too impersonal and not appropriate for a collectivism- based culture.

High- Context vs. Low- Context Communication

Low- context communication culture focuses primarily on the actual words spoken or written to interpret the meaning the other person is trying to communicate. A high-context communication culture interprets not only the words that have been spoken and/ or written, but also uses nonverbal cues such as body language and tone of the voice to aid in the interpretation of the meaning of the words. As a result, an ethics training program that just focuses on the language and written documents to relay its ethical vision will be effective in a low- context culture but will be ineffective in a high- context culture. In a high- context culture, the presentation of ethics codes and formal procedures will be perceived as irrelevant and, there-fore, most likely ignored by the audience. As a result, the ethics training program must use nonverbal cues to help a high- context culture audience interpret what the true ethical vision of the firm is.

High Uncertainty vs. Low Uncertainty Avoidance

High uncertainty avoidance culture is based on the view that the individuals do not want any ambiguity in their jobs. By embracing the status quo, high uncertainty avoidance cultures will not accept any part of an ethics training program in which there is potential unpredictability in their actions because they will not accept that level of uncertainty. Low uncertainty avoidance not only accepts risk and ambiguity, but embraces it. As a result, high uncertainty avoidance individuals prefer specific rules and guidelines to help them understand what is considered acceptable ethical behavior. However, high uncertainty avoidance cultures would refuse to embrace any tools that would result in anonymous reporting, such as an ethics hotline.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Masculine cultures focus on material goods, status, accomplishment, and reward for ambition. Feminine cultures focus on caring for human needs and supporting others within the group. As a result, it is expected that high- masculine cultures would require more comprehensive ethics training and more ethics monitoring and control mechanisms for the employees. In addition, individual punishment would be needed to identify to others the individual consequences of unethical behavior. For feminine cultures, nonpunitive ethics programs would be more effective.

High vs. Low Power Distance

High power distance cultures embrace the hierarchical relationship that occurs between the manager and the subordinate. High power distance cultures would be less likely to change or provide input to their supervisors. Employees in a low power distance culture would not be too shy to speak their minds to their supervisors with the presentation of new ideas. In high power distance cultures, firms need to focus on accountability and blame for the upper levels of management because this is where the ideas come from. For low power distance cultures, the accountability and blame should be distributed based on the actual job responsibilities of the employees.

There are a number of critical benefits that effective ethics training can yield for a firm. The first benefit is that it ensures that the employees are aware of the ethical standards of the firm. In addition, the employees also are given guidance as to the procedure set up within the company to report unethical behavior. Furthermore, it aids in integrating the value systems of the top managers with the other employees within the firm. A detailed list of benefits is shown in Table. When describing items in the code of ethics and in the ethics training program, the firm must give as many examples as possible to reinforce the notion of ethical con-duct. The actions of top management will always preclude the written code. Employees will be best motivated to follow the code if top management is not viewed as bending or breaking the elements of the code. For example, in December 2004 Wal-Mart fired seven of its top managers for failing to meet company standards. Then, on January 1, 2005, Wal-Mart unveiled a new ethics policy. The new policy dealt with internal accounting issues, vendor relationships, and personal conduct, among other items. (The ethics guide is available on the company's Web site.)


It may be that some employees are taking the ethical internal control process too personally by reporting every action seen as a violation of the code of ethics. How should an employer deal with this? First of all, it may be necessary to ask if the employee is reacting in a retaliating way. Maybe the employee is mad at management for a certain decision that was made; maybe the employee is mad at other employees; or maybe the employee feels that he or she has been given an unfair share of the work-load. If the answer is yes, then it will be necessary to deal with the employee through human resources, not through the ethics department. However, if an employer finds that the complaints are valid and are actual violations to the ethical code, then the employer will have to take steps to enforce the code. Otherwise, employees will begin to ignore the code of ethics. While a certain amount of resources are expended with the investigation of each of the complaints, it may be necessary to investigate all of the valid complaints because of the effort required in establishing the code of ethics. It may mean that a code change is necessary because the code has not been written to cover all day- to- day occurrences.

For a compliance program to work effectively, it is necessary for the code of ethics to be enforced properly. Employees may begin to ignore the code if they realize that the code will be enforced only sporadically, not at all, or just for certain people. And the policy must be enforced at all levels in the organization. The tone from the top is important when enforcing the code of ethics in an organization. Part of the compliance aspect is to provide training programs for employees to know what is expected of them and how the code of ethics will be enforced. Companies such as Lockheed Martin have developed programs that help train individuals on gray areas that they may be faced within their jobs. These training programs must be given to all levels on the employment ladder. It is necessary for employees to see top management and their supervisors participating in the same programs that they do to learn about programs. In determining whether ethics training programs will be successful, two measures can be viewed: the level of support from the participant's direct supervisor and the support of peers in accepting the new behaviors covered in the training pro-grams. 18 To enforce a code of ethics within an organization, corporate leaders must say that the code of ethics is a living document, not just something that is shared with employees then forgotten.


It is critical that management does not just pay lip service to ethics training programs. The purpose of the program is not a public relations tool to be used to promote the image of the firm. The true purpose of the training program is to be able to give the firms employees a viable outlet in which ethical behavior can be maintained. As a result, the employees must view their disclosures of information being taken seriously. The Government Accountability Project offers these suggestions for corporations in investigating claims:

- Set the ground rules up front.

- Build trust up front.

- Treat whistle- blowers as people.

- Expedite the investigation and decision making.

- Maintain confidentiality to the extent possible.

- Be thorough and objective.

- Discuss the evidence with the whistle- blower.

- Provide the parties with opportunities to respond.

- Keep the whistle- blower apprised of developments.

- Allow a liaison role.

- Provide follow- up.

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Business Law and Ethics: Elements in a global ethics training program
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