Courage and the organization – where is courage required?
Skip to content

I sometimes get a question asking for examples of what types of policies and practices are linked to workplace courage.

While the obvious policy is whistleblowing – currently very popular across the globe and people such as Assange and Snowden have been the subject of intense press and government discussion – courage has been an integral part of organizational policies for decades in the shape of Compliance, Ethics, Governance and Integrity.  Even the early days of Corporate Social Responsibility had aspects of courage associated with it.

These types of policies have been the favourite of law makers for decades and even some of the earliest consumer protection legislation required organizations to put in place mechanisms to ensure unscrupulous sales people didn’t take advantage of customers. 

So why is courage such an important part of such policies?

The introduction of such policies doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  In some enlightened organizations the senior management team recognised that having a strong ethical culture was good for business while in others, industry events or specific examples led management to either recognise the importance or were required to by law or regulation.

For those organizations that evolved with a strong underlying courage value e.g. innovation, personal responsibility, openness, accountability etc., the formalisation of such policies was often relatively easy.  However, where organizations didn’t evolve with a strong courage trait, implementing any change to the organizations culture i.e. “the values and behaviours that create the unique social and psychological environment of an organization” (thanks www.businessdictionary.com) is always going to be difficult.

Let’s be clear – there are academics, consulting firms and practioners out there that have built entire careers and made small fortunes (sometimes large ones) out of culture change methodologies. 

But in danger of repeating myself once again, policy and process do not, by themselves, lead to changes in the way that employees and managers behave.  Telling people what they should do doesn’t often lead to behaviour change, even with the threat of dismissal, fines or jail.  Guiding people, providing context, giving them tools, giving them opportunities to try the new behaviour in a ‘safe’ setting and listening to their concerns are all ways of changing employee behaviour.

Having worked in a range of industries and supported compliance and / or risk management teams in many of them, I know how difficult it is to get employees to act in a manner that is in the spirit of the policy, not just the words.

Courage is required by both the policy enforcers and by those employees that are affected by it.  To be the first to change your behaviour, sometimes at both personal financial and reputational cost, requires courage. 

If you are thinking about a culture change programme, think about building courage development into your project plan.