Exploring the Role of Virtues in Determining Organizational Culture

The Institute for Global Ethics, known worldwide for its groundbreaking work in the area of ethical decision-making, has recently completed a planning project—funded by the John Templeton Foundation—on the role of ethical values in building cultures of integrity. The project is expected to be the forerunner of a much larger project aimed at testing and refining a hypothetical culture of integrity model.

Working with best-practice organizations in the nonprofit, for profit, and education sectors, IGE asked employees (and students) what they thought made their organization a great place to work (or learn). Overwhelmingly, for all three organizations, those interviewed said that:

  • The organization is mission driven.
  • Leadership is exemplary.
  • The atmosphere at work is collegial.
  • Communications are important and well handled.
  • Quality of work is critical and everyone does their part.

During the survey portion of the project, respondents at all three organizations confirmed IGE's previous research on the primary importance of five core ethical values—honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion. There also was a high level of agreement that the core values selected are shared by those with whom they work. Many examples of values at work were offered. For example, respect was seen as behaving in a culturally responsive manner to both clients and other employees.

One important finding was that ethical organizations appear to build in processes and structures that translate values into organizational practices. Leaders model ethical behavior and devise structures, for example, to enhance communications both to and from employees. Mission is stated in meaningful, positive terms and directed at some expressed greater good. Colleagues trust each other, as well as leadership, and know how to work together as a team.

A few other important factors were identified as contributing to the development of a culture of integrity:

  • Ethical organizations invest in their employees by integrating new employees carefully into the organization, by providing opportunities for learning and advancement, and by recognizing exemplary employee achievements and contributions to the whole.
  • Ethical organizations support service beyond self, such as reaching out beyond the requirements of the mission and encouraging employees and students to volunteer in the broader community.
  • They tend as well to have a longer time horizon. They look to the needs of the future and make decisions based not on short-term results, but on doing the right thing long term.

The Institute looks forward to continuing this research. The goal is to investigate how core values, organizational processes, and organizational structures—the building blocks of organizational integrity—might best be configured to ensure a culture of integrity.