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Strengthening an ethical culture:
three learnings

Sustainability assured 2016


In recent years, companies have been discovering the limits of traditional methods of communicating their ethical guidelines. While assets like a code of conduct are important steps towards defining the behaviour that an organisation encourages and prohibits, the topic of ethics is a much deeper one than can be encapsulated with these alone.

In response to these challenges, Wärtsilä has been developing an ethical culture programme to help personnel delineate what is acceptable in a variety of complex situations. This is no easy journey, but key learnings are already emerging, as Marko Vainikka, Director, Corporate Relations and Sustainability, explains.

To develop precisely what we mean by ethical culture, we have begun a programme of workshops to discuss the topic with different internal stakeholders. The idea of these discussions is to create a common understanding and to strengthen the values and principles of the code of conduct that have already been established.

It’s not a question of creating something new. Rather, the concept is to discover – through rigorous exploration and brainstorming – what these principles really mean for us in practice. To make them more concrete.

We began this process in 2016 with our top management, who have already demonstrated a substantial commitment in time and energy to the programme. As we move forward, larger groups of personnel will be involved until everyone in the organisation has to some extent taken part.

One discovery is that creating ethical culture requires face-to-face discussions. This is clearly the most effective and impactful way to handle the topic, touching on its many ramifications for the way we behave, both in business and in our daily working lives. On-going conversation highlights the fact that we all are responsible for shaping our collective culture on a constant basis, every single day.

Talk it
Through

Keep the
conversation
alive

The question of how to achieve this continuous on-going discussion then arises. It’s important that this is not executed in an overly artificial way, though there are of course procedural obligations, and we have taken steps to strengthen these.

For example, we have established a practice in which every member of the staff is required to sign a letter indicating that they have read the Code of Conduct and undertake to comply with its contents in their work.

We have also been including the code more strongly in development discussions. In my opinion, this is a highly suitable forum in which to determine whether our people fully understand the code’s contents, and where they can address any issues they have with it, or seek to clarify their understanding.

Our broader efforts to encourage this discussion begin with management. It’s a gradual process, with results that are difficult to quantify, but as a benchmark we can consider a similar journey we have already taken with the subject of safety. This was flagged as a vital topic for us some time ago, as well as an area where improvements could be made through better communication.

Fast-forward to the present, and after much work around the theme we are making more and more progress with safety year-by-year (something well documented elsewhere in our annual report), and it’s a subject our management bring up in communications quite naturally – and without any external prompting.

So we know it can be done, and this is what we hope to achieve also with these admittedly more complex ethical questions. This would certainly make knowledge of potential ethical considerations a more constant companion in our work.



 

And perhaps the most important thing to remember about all this work is that fostering a strong culture in respect of any topic is a huge task, and very much a long-term project.

To appreciate this, just consider what is perhaps the most frequent question raised in sessions around this issue: “What is our company culture?” Even if you can provide some kind of an answer off the top of your head, does it genuinely reflect a common understanding? Would you expect one of your colleagues to give the same reply?

With our ethical culture programme, which is itself evolving, we’re simply aiming to raise the question of ethics within Wärtsilä’s collective consciousness. This isn’t something you can ever consider “done”, and certainly it can’t be imposed upon our personnel without their own commitment and understanding.

But with time, we hope our efforts will gradually become more visible, making ethical implications more present in our thinking, and ultimately helping good ethical decision-making to become second nature.

Strengthening
the culture
takes time

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