“It’s the least I could do.”
This phrase often serves as a gratuitous shrug-of-the-shoulders acknowledgement to someone’s thank you, but it shouldn’t describe a corporate culture. A company’s progressive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments – personified by supervisors’ moral courage to go beyond compliance on ethical matters – can provide a powerful driver for improved day-to-day employee performance and engagement, according to the Journal of Business Ethics. In turn, a beyond-compliance culture creates significant opportunities in strategic communications, brand alignment and reputation building for today’s organizations facing intense stakeholder demands and public expectations.
Looking for Clues
For decades, researchers have sought to better understand how the interactions between supervisors and their employees create the boundaries within which a group operates. This is particularly true, researchers noted, since employees, “look for clues in supervisors’ behaviors in deciding how to act” as they complete day-to-day assignments and tackle unique challenges.
In this latest analysis, researchers focused specifically on supervisors’ “moral courage” that encompasses personal competencies like moral agency and a predisposition to doing the right thing, reliance on values set as guiding principles, endurance in the face of threats and obstacles in pursuing what is right and a focus on altruistic goals and aspirations. Researchers concentrated on how this moral code differs from a mere compliance mindset that typically “reflects minimal adherence to rules and is often motivated by self-protection or a desire to avoid sanctions.” Instead, beyond-compliance thinking is driven to “not only consider the rule, but also reflect upon their purpose . . . to consider what is right, just and appropriate,” researchers observed.
Creating and Implementing New Ideas
To test their hypotheses, researchers examined two common business activities – developing new ideas and implementing them – each of which poses different challenges for work teams. Employees who feel supported by strong moral-courage leadership may be emboldened to develop alternative and innovative approaches “despite organizational pressure to follow standard procedures,” researchers surmised.
Moreover, implementing new ideas can be a risky proposal that often involves internal and external resistance, resourcing challenges, setbacks and potential failure. But “morally courageous people tend to be more resilient,” researchers observed, which may help their employees “muster the inner motivation needed to overcome resistance to implementing new ideas.”
Positive and Significant
In academic parlance, researchers found a “positive and significant” correlation between various aspects of supervisors’ beyond-compliance moral courage and their teams’ quality, creativity and performance across several settings as employees followed their leaders’ example. But how does an organization build talent with this degree of moral backbone?
Rather than relying on luck or happenstance to discover morally daring individuals, organizations can actively cultivate and reinforce a beyond-compliance moral culture starting with an enterprise-wide CSR commitment that clearly demonstrates executive-down resolve to go beyond minimalist expectations. These priorities can then be integrated in ongoing recruitment, onboarding, training, leader development, organizational communications, executive visibility, employee recognition, corporate rankings and other steps to solidify desired behaviors among leaders, supervisors and front-line employees.
Authenticity To Differentiate
With a beyond-compliance foundation firmly set and behaviors aligned internally, organizations now have the authenticity to differentiate brand and reputational attributes externally through strategic communications, digital and social media engagement, targeted partnerships and other outreach linked to key business imperatives. In working with a range of clients, for example, we continue to leverage significant strategic differentiation for organizations demonstrating beyond-minimalist performance in areas spanning the workplace and commitment to employees and families, diverse empowerment and inclusion, operational and supply chain integrity, financial reporting and transparency, social and economic justice, and many other areas of intense stakeholder interest.
While “it’s the least I could do” may have been a common compliance approach in the past, growing evidence shows there are significant organizational advantages in going beyond the minimum and in building real character and reputation based on straightforward moral courage. Our stakeholders are expecting more of us today, and our employees are watching the examples we’re setting.
The benefits of cultivating a beyond-compliance moral culture not only include increased engagement, but more innovative employee thinking and loyalty as well; however, this kind of environment rarely occurs spontaneously. Organizations can actively promote a beyond-compliance culture by implementing enterprise-wide CSR commitments that demonstrate a resolve—especially on behalf of those in the C-Suite—to go above and beyond expectation. Once demonstrated by leadership, this attitude of heightened moral courage is easier to adopt across the board, differentiating your organization from those that merely comply with the bare minimum expectations of corporate behavior today.
Wade Gates is an Executive Vice President at BCW. He leads the firm’s Workplace and Labor Communications group and is a senior member of the CSR and Sustainability team.
Does Supervisor’s Moral Courage to Go Beyond Compliance Have a Role in the Relationships Between Teamwork Quality, Team Creativity, and Team Idea Implementation? Journal of Business Ethics (2021), Vol 168