Dogbert Offers Advice on Ethics in the Workplace
When an employee is feeling the heat to close a huge overseas deal, but can't offer the bribes that the competitors are serving up, does he follow U.S. law or bend the rules to get the contract? Dogbert may not be the first ethics expert a worker should consult, but he might help open the dialogue -- or at least so goes the thinking at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.
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In this Tech Careers Q&A, David Clous, Lockheed Martin's newly appointed Vice President of Ethics and Business Conduct, explains how his company is using the Ethics Challenge interactive board game featuring Scott Adams's Dilbert cartoons to train their workers to deal with ethical dilemmas. With more than 170,000 employees worldwide and over $28 billion in sales in 1997, Lockheed Martin is an international defense contractor with operations spanning the space, telecommunications, electronics, information and services, aeronautics, energy and systems integration sectors.
Q: What factors in today's workplace have increased the importance of ethical issues?
David Clous: Today's team-oriented workplace has certainly changed the dynamic in the office, and given the global nature of Lockheed Martin's business, our employees face a variety of ethical dilemmas in closing contracts abroad. Bribes paid by foreign competitors are a major impediment to our business overseas. But by putting the focus on creating and maintaining an ethical work environment, we've found that we can still compete.
Internally, a values-oriented workplace helps create a common corporate culture, encouraging teamwork. Externally, it makes for better relationships with suppliers and customers. Being known as a company of highly ethical people working together -- as a team -- to achieve mission success actually serves to give us a leg-up on the competition.
Q: How do you train your employees to handle these issues?
Clous: Each position in our company has a compliance training profile that outlines all of the applicable laws and corporate policies that an employee should be aware of in carrying out his or her daily responsibilities. We offer instruction in these issues via an interactive CD-ROM. But in addition, all of our employees receive "live" ethics awareness training from their supervisors on an annual basis. This training module makes use of the Lockheed Martin Ethics Challenge, a highly interactive board game in which teams of employees compete by figuring out how to respond to realistic scenarios.
The most basic message that we try to convey to our employees is: "If you don't know, ASK!" ... and keep asking until you get the answer to your question. Resources, including supervisors and our ethics help-line, are available to every employee if they have a question. Lack of communication is the biggest challenge in creating an ethical workplace.
Q: How does the Ethics Challenge board game work?
Clous: Each scenario of the Ethics Challenge presents a dilemma, but rather than simplistic "right and wrong" answers, the game suggests a range of responses. As teams discuss the cases, they hear other people's opinions and experiences and gain first-hand experience in applying the company's ethical decision-making model. This interaction creates a lively dialogue about the issues.
During the one-hour training sessions, up to 40 employees form teams and work through about five different ethical scenarios or cases. For example, in case number 28 in the category of Charging Practices, a co-worker at a defense plant signed up for a training course. You know he did not attend the course nor was he at work. How do you handle the situation? Your options are:
A. It's none of your business, so you stay out of it.
B. Speak to your supervisor about the co-worker's absence.
C. Send a letter to the company Ethics Office.
D. Speak to your colleague about this discrepancy and see what his explanation is.
Dogbert Answer: At the next staff meeting, ask him to share what he learned with the group.
The Dogbert answer to each case file provides a humorous look at business ethics. Balancing the serious message of the Ethics Challenge with humor has become a hallmark of this training initiative. The sessions are facilitated by managers and supervisors, who personally conduct the training for their employees. This philosophy permits the maximum number of employees to receive their annual ethics awareness training from their immediate supervisors.
Q: What does the game accomplish?
Clous: The game raises awareness of the importance of ethical business conduct in the workplace and helps equip employees with a simple but effective ethical decision-making model:
(1) Evaluate information.
(2) Consider how your decision might affect stakeholders.
(3) Consider what ethical values are relevant to the situation.
(4) Determine the best course of action that takes into account relevant values and stakeholders' interests.
According to a survey conducted for Lockheed Martin by the Ethics Resource Center of Washington, D.C., the overwhelming majority of our employees reported that they believed the company had a genuine commitment to ethics in the workplace and that the training program was an important part of that commitment. In fact, 74 percent of the company's employees said it was easy to apply what they learned in the training program to their work environment.
Some social scientists suggest that when people believe that their company is ethical, they tend to be more concerned about their own ethical behavior. Our employees cited ethics training as the primary reason they perceived the company's commitment to ethics to have increased over the past two years.
For the 1998 version of the Ethics Challenge, 50 new cases were developed by a task force comprised of 15 ethics officers and training managers from a cross-section of Lockheed Martin business units, drawing on actual Lockheed Martin ethics cases from a three-year period. As employee feedback from the 1997 training suggested, the task force focused on making the cases relevant, engaging and in some cases even provocative. Also in the 1998 version, cases were added to relate to other work groups such as hourly workers and international employees.
It is okay if players don't always agree with the way the answers are ranked for correctness. The point of annual live ethics awareness training is not to teach company policy or regulations, but to raise awareness about the importance of ethics in the workplace and to give employees some practical tools to use in approaching ethical decision making. When a case hits a nerve, we know we have a good case.
Q: What recourse do your employees have when presented with an ethical dilemma?
Clous: Since the formation of Lockheed Martin in March 1995, we have stressed that whenever employees have a question, concern or comment on a matter of ethics and business conduct, the preferred course of action is to surface it with their supervisor. In instances where a supervisor cannot resolve the situation, employees are encouraged to take the matter "up the chain" or to the appropriate department, such as Human Resources or Legal.
At any time, of course, they may take the matter up with their company ethics officer of the Corporate Office of Ethics and Business Conduct. This office receives approximately 3,000 contacts annually from employees and others. Many of the contacts are from employees asking questions or seeking clarifications on a wide range of issues, such as the propriety of accepting a token promotional item from a supplier or the company's policy on political activities in the workplace.
Employees may also contact our ethics help-line to report a suspected violation of company policy, regarding matters such as employee relations and conduct (including compensation, benefits and pay issues); management practices (application of policies or procedures, intimidation or harassment and nepotism or favoritism); account and charging practices; and misuse of assets.
Q: How are ethics programs like this one valuable in recruiting workers?
Clous: Our research shows that people want to work for an ethical company. College recruiters tell us that prospective employees frequently ask about a company's values in deciding among competing job offers. Moreover, our use of the Dilbert characters in our annual live ethics awareness training shows graduating college students that we have a sense of humor and are not afraid to try new and creative ways to get people's attention and involvement.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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