Weaving An Ethical Culture: A Guide For Leaders

Weaving An Ethical Culture: A Guide For Leaders

Neha Mahyavanshi, Senior Legal Counsel, SAP, 0

Neha Mahyavanshi is a corporate lawyer by profession and is currently serving as the compliance officer of a leading multinational software company.

The Jamdani is an ancient art form of weaving cloth from cotton yarn, originating in the Bengal region. It is woven by human hands that rhythmically work on a loom to create what is touted as the most refined muslin created by mankind. This fabric looks deceivingly delicate but is very enduring. The weaving of this textile is labour intensive and time-consuming usually translating to only one inch of fabric woven in a full workday. Similarly, “Trust” takes long time to build. It is collected in drops over time but can be lost in buckets.

In this article, I explore the delicate art of weaving an ethical environment for business leaders who see the long-term benefits of doing-the-right-thing and the importance of cultivating a patronage for business ethics.

1. Setting the Tone from the Very Top!
The cultural environment of any organization in set at the top by its leaders. It usually has a quick trickle-down effect. The concept of “tone from the top” is said to have originated in audit firms referring to an organisation’s senior leadership’s attitude towards internal financial controls. It was popularized following several accounting scandals resulting in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 in the United States. Today, it is a concept that is widely accepted as a yardstick for measuring the ethical culture of an organisation and is accepted in wider fields such as information security, general management and software development.
When leaders show a strong patronage to internal controls and policies that are established to regulate the ethical environment of a company, employees at all levels welcome and live by these principles and acting ethically becomes a popular concept.

The Jamdani was worn and popularised by the most powerful people of the age- the Mughals. They cherished it for its beauty, the craftsmanship and its durability. When the power faded from their hands, so did the popularity of the Jamdani. This art almost became extinct in the mid-19th century for lack of patronage.

2. Investing in a Compliance Management System
In order to sustain the right tone from the top, an organization will need to invest in a framework that ensures that the commitment to business ethics made by its top management permeates every level of the organization. This involves steps such as (1) developing compliance policies and procedures, (2) training the Board, the management and every employee, (3)
investing in a compliance department and (4) continuous monitoring of ongoing and potential risk, to name a few.

Creating a compliance management system may seem costly to begin with. However, just as the Jaamdani, which is still the most expensive muslin made by man, this investment comes with a promise of sustainability and durability.

3. Be the Change You Want to See
The Jamdani has been making a comeback in the last decade with its rise in popularity thanks to the efforts of revivalists and designers that have shown patronage to it. It is hailed for its zero-carbon footprint and as more and more people make eco-friendly ways of living a priority- wearing the Jamdani has become a means of making a statement and walking the talk.

Leaders that want to establish an ethical culture will have to start with themselves. This would mean strictly walking the talk – with no exceptions. A Leader would then have to manage their personal affairs in such a way that (1) doesn’t create conflict of interest situations; (2) maintain professionally acceptable standards of gifting and hospitality; and (3) consistently demonstrating a zero-tolerance attitude for acts of bribery and corruption.

Leaders that want to establish an ethical culture will have to start with themselves. This would mean strictly walking the talk – with no exceptions

4. Keeping the Message Alive
The Jamdani fabric has a strange quality- it becomes stronger with every wash. To reap the benefits of its long-lasting nature, you are advised to wear it often. The more you use it- the more it lasts- completely turning the logic of usual wear and tear on its head. However, this magical fabric tears at folds and dies when it is left untouched. In some cases, because of its organic nature, it gets eaten up by bugs. When you buy a Jamdanisaree you are told to take it out of the cupboard every six months, disinfect it under direct sunlight and change the direction of its folds. Strangely trust and ethics have similar qualities. They can’t be left in the pages of policy- they have to be lived and demonstrated all the time. The regularity of messaging is hence immensely important, lest the ethical fabric can gather dust and tear away at its folds.

5. With great power, comes great responsibility.
Jamdani weavers are highly skilled craftsmen whose craft demands for them to be passionate, hardworking and ever present.

Leaders are in a unique position. They have the power to weave a long-lasting, trustworthy work environment for their organizations. And this power is not limited to their companies, for it can be used to create a positive impact on the wider industry by always dealing ethically with vendors, customers, suppliers and partners.

Only when more and more Leaders make doing-business-ethically their priority will we see a change for the greater common good.