Three Ways to Create More Ethical Behavior at Work

Few of us would disagree that ethical behavior is important in the workplace. Yet how we do this is a much more challenging discussion! Below are three practical ways to foster a stronger ethical work culture.

  1. Visible Moral Symbols. Recent research published in the Academy of Management Journal revealed that individuals who have visible moral symbols in their workspace facilitate stronger ethical conduct. A virtuous quote, a religious image or a moral sign serve as visible reminders – both to yourself and more specifically, to those you work with – that ethical behavior is important. Google’s lead value, “Don’t do evil” is a great example of this (though you could debate if this has shifted in their recent value change from “Don’t do evil” to “Do the right thing”). Before you try this, remember to consider the cultural nuances involved in doing this effectively!
  2. Public Ovation. In Trust Factor, Paul J. Zak provides fascinating evidence that connects trust development with activities which release oxytocin (something our body produces which makes us both trust others more and become more trustworthy). In short, Zak teaches that creating moments which release oxytocin will build trust. Since trust is a foundational moral value (partially developed by congruence between what we say and what we do), we have opportunity to deepen trust be facilitating oxytocin-inducing moments. Public praise (or what Zak refers to as ovation) is an effective way to do this. When you catch someone doing the right thing, create a moment of public praise (which also serves as a Visible Moral Symbol!).
  3. Decrease the Gap. Ethics is a combination of two things: what we believe, and, what we do. Inevitably, there will be a gap between them! Effective leaders continually work to decrease their gap. Doing so increases trust and a climate for ethical behavior (see above!). One effective (and humbling) way to decrease the gap is to become a person who regularly asks for feedback. In Thanks for the Feedback (Even When It’s Off-base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood), Stone and Heen remind us that research shows we all have 3.2 blind spots. This sobering fact should change the way you live! It also provides a practical method by which to decrease the gap!

Successful organizations do more that pay lip-service to the need to act ethically. These three practices can help turn what you believe into what your organization does. What other practices have you used?

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Email:



Jena McGregor (2015). Promoting more ethical behavior. LA Times, 2015.

Paul J. Zak (2017). Trust Factor. AMAcom.

Dr. Henry Cloud (2006). Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality. Harper Business.

Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen (2015). Thanks for the Feedback. Penguin Books.

If Information is Power, How Do You Wield it?

The adage “information is power” is so common that we often fail to reflect on what it really means. This simple concept is foundational to how most of the world works. Our view about the power of information explains why North Americans place such a high priority on things like education (which builds information capacity), access to the internet (which provides access to information) and freedom of speech (which gives us the right to possess information).

However, if information is power, then we must assess what kind of power it wields. In and of itself, information is not good or bad. However, as we act (or don’t act) on information it inherits value. As citizens of “the information age”, what does it really mean to have access to so much information? Or to have access to so much power?

It has been said that “information is a cudgel, a beacon, an olive branch, a deterrent – all depending on who yields it and how” (Levitt & Dubner). It would seem that power and information share a symbiotic relationship. Here are two basic ways that we harness the power of information.

Information Lords: When we view ourselves as “lords”, we assume the role of an owner. We seek to use the information at our disposal for our own benefit. At times this means using it as a cudgel (think of recent political debates) and at other times we hide information in order to achieve our desired ends (illegal stock traders do this as does Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Ruler of North Korea). Recently a scandal erupted when we discovered that Volkswagen has been hiding information about their vehicle emission levels (they built their cars to cheat on emissions tests). This act reveals that those who had access to Volkswagen emissions information determined to hide it from public scrutiny. Those who act as information lords will seek to use information to build or protect their own power.

Information Stewards: A steward is different than a lord in that they understand that they are not owners. Rather, they view themselves as people who are entrusted with that which someone else owns. It may be stewards of your shareholders investments or of the well-being of others. In the early 1980’s poisoned Tylenol was discovered on store shelves. Not knowing the source of this problem, Tylenol publicly announced they were removing all of their pills from the market in order to protect consumers. This had devastating financial effects for the company. However, they realized that they were stewards of information which would save lives and acted as stewards. Those who act as information stewards will seek to use information to build up or protect those things they have been entrusted with.

As individuals and organizations, we must reflect on how we exercise the power of information. While it is easy to point fingers a Kim Jong-un or Volkswagen, we have all acted as information owners by only telling part of the story or by withholding information that helps our own cause. However, we have also had those moments when we realize that we are simply stewards of information. This occurs when you return the extra $20 in change you receive or when you admit to making a mistake that no one else knows about.

Each day presents you with countless opportunities to use information as power. Do you act as an lord or steward this information?


Jeff Head Shot 3.jpgDr. Jeff Suderman seeks to harness to power of information as a consultant, professor and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (2005). Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

Fast Forward: Five Forecasts for ’15

Now that the New Year is well underway, I decided it was time to use my futurist skills and make some forecasts about things that I think will become prominent in the year ahead. So here it is, my inagural Five Forecasts for 2015!

  1. The ‘internet of things’ takes off: Eventually, the nebulous concept of ‘cloud-computing’ has made sense to those who use technology (which means almost everyone!). In a similar way, expect the concept of ‘the internet of things’ to creep into our vernacular in the year ahead. In simple terms, this idea refers to what occurs when we start linking our stuff to technology. Digital camera’s did not used to be connected to our digital world but now wifi enabled cameras are a part of the internet. Exercise used to be technology free but now we wear devices which uploads our fitness activities. Soon we will have clothing with digital sensors which will connect us to the internet. Even our thermostats are now part of the digital grid (think NEST). The internet of things is what cloud computing was five years ago and it will turn most of our non-digital world into something connected to the internet.
  2. Oil takes a back seat: As solar power becomes more affordable and people are learning how to create their own power microgrids, petroleum-based fuels will continue to decline in global importance. We will be oil dependent for several more years, but the role of oil and gas is shifting. It used to be the bus driver but is becoming just another passenger on the bus.
  3. US foreign policy shifts: With the rise of ISIS, the lingering aftermath of Bin Laden and the Middle-Eastern fall-out from the Arab Spring, I believe we will begin to see subtle indicators that the United States will shift its position as ‘the worlds police’. While readers of this forecast will have a diversity of personal viewpoints on this matter, this is a statement without prejudice. The rules and norms of global security have shifted and as a result, I expect methods and policy will as well.
  4. The rise of the shrinking middle class: The gap between rich and poor (measured by something called the GINI index) has historical links to stability/peace (a low GINI score or income gap) and instability/unrest (a high GINI score or income gap). Between 2009 and 2012 the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains. This does not bode well for the middle class in America and we will begin to see more signs of unrest and this gap increases.
  5. Ethics enters the mainstream: As we begin to acknowledge the interconnectedness of our world we are going to take more responsibility for the effects of our actions. Consumers are already expecting that their brands behave ethically or give back to  the world. The example of the CVS drugstore chain (which stopped selling cigarette products because it did not support their brand promise of health) is an excellent example of the realignment of business and values.

As a bonus forecast, expect to hear more discussion about the post-capitalist era. Our literature and media is increasingly admitting that the economic capitalism is a broken model that is beyond repair (for example, review #5 above!). The collective culture will take some time to get used to this massive ideological shift (at least in North America). However, as this happens, watch for experts to begin proposing alternate concepts such as the sharing economy, economic democracy or economic sustainability.Granola Bar

And finally, I have one long-shot wish for 2015. I wish that food companies would begin adding the products % of daily sugar intake on food labels. Current law only requires them to list how many grams of sugar are in a product. As we shifted from away from high fat (a good thing), we simply replaced our problem with a new one – sugar intake. Low fat tastes bland so sugar has filled the void. Adding the daily recommended intake of sugar would be a big step in helping consumers realize this problem. When labels show that one granola bar contains 40% of our daily recommended sugar intake, attitudes and behaviors will begin to change!

Whatever occurs in the year ahead, I wish all of you a safe and joy-filled 2015!


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman