Ethics and Culture
A Matter of Ethics -
Facing the Fear of Doing the Right Thing
by Teri J. Traaen, Ed.D., D.P.A.
CEO Traaen & Associates, LLC

As we close out 2020 with its landmark challenges and issues that we hope to never again experience, we find that many of our client organizations are stunned by the events of this year. This includes reactions to the behavior of some of their employees and the reality of picking up the pieces after addressing untenable situations.  These situations have been complex and daunting.  Urgent requests for advice as to what the ‘next steps’ should be, must be or could be for the future of these highly challenged organizations has been a weekly occurrence in light of what has unfolded during 2020. The foundation of our advice is to first consider the reality of today within their organization in the context of their Code of Ethics and how that applies to their application of their organization’s ethics based policies that support their mission.

Every situation includes examining what the ethical framework suggests is ‘the right thing to do’.  Facing the fear of doing the right thing in all situations often includes sorting out the turbulence of protecting innocent parties, honoring the expectations of the greater community and/or customer that counts on your organization for reliable and accurate work performance, while balancing restricted budget capacity and unknown realities now about the financial stability of the workforce and its escalating costs.

We recommend considering goals that support where the organization intends to be in thirty-six (36) months. This includes mission, size, location, virtual vs. on site service systems/work locations and intentionality for downsizing versus attempts at current status survival.  These operational tenets are frankly the easiest aspects to define and communicate in a transparent fashion to all stakeholders and parties.  The more challenging realities are the culture and climate of the future version of your organization.  

As a result of the ‘Challenges of 2020’ is your organization permanently changed?  Damaged? Redefined? Will you be moving to new leadership and/or more full or part-time/temporary staffing to ensure a greater flexibility for all concerned?  In the midst of Pandemic stabilization and eventual recovery will your organization permanently restructure and allow for new and varied approaches to employee performance and engagement?  In other words, will employees be granted the flexibility to define their work format and freedom of location placement because it is the most effective way to become forward focused and reward employees who have stayed the course and continued to be high performing members of your workforce despite the realities of the health impact on our U.S. marketplace? Are there questions about the ethics within your organization as a result of decisions made during 2020?  If so, how will you shape a transparent and ethical response to all inquiries about what comes next in light of the challenges that have been faced head on?  Every choice is a matter of ethics – yours, the ethics of individuals and groups within the workforce of your organization, as well as the policies by which you shape how employee behavior and performance will be rewarded.  Doing the ‘right thing’ is often not obvious, but requires a candor that creates extreme discomfort for all stakeholders.  We owe it to each other to consider our ethical standards and those of our individual organizations as we hasten toward 2021.  We will be better for having done this.

Climate and Culture - Evolving or Sustained
by Teri J. Traaen, Ed.D., D.P.A.
CEO Traaen & Associates, LLC

The terms climate and culture are often used interchangeably when discussing what it ‘feels’ like to work inside an organization.  Climate can be the sense of welcome and/or rejection beginning with the first contact with remote/virtual/on-site Human Resources staff.  How does it feel to be related to only via passive remote interaction?  Is that the framework that communicates what your organizational mission is trying to convey?  Often, within the public and not for profit sectors we strive for exactly the opposite but mistakenly rely on the passive sense of portals to connect with hundreds of applicants to ease the staffing pressures for entry level and lower compensation level positions.  Are we working against ourselves when there is no human touch/outreach included early on in the candidacy process.
Culture is a term that is meant to reflect how welcoming we are to every employee – regardless of their position on an organizational chart in terms of their contributions and engagement.  Do we tie their role to the most important outcomes being achieved at all times within the organization?  Or do we assume that each employee understands their contribution and should not have to have this alignment done for them in order to encourage their retention?

Today’s marketplace is evolving.  No longer is there an expectation of a minimum amount of time spent with any one employer to demonstrate loyalty, commitment or skills attainment.  Employees from all generations are driven by a need to contribute and to be recognized for their contributions in a variety of ways.  It is imperative that every organization design retention strategies that are obvious, compelling and related to their organization’s capability to be transparent in all areas of services and products.  To do otherwise lends itself to escalating turnover rates and negative social media posts about individual employee experiences.  Consider the last time you invited your workforce units to describe and design how they would like to be recognized for their contributions?  For their interests in promotional opportunities?  For their long term career achievements?  Their feedback may result in a new organizational model being undertaken for 2021.
Is Your HR Team Ready for 2021?
by Sarah Stewart, M.A.

This time time last year, many of us would have been planning our team and organizational strategy and priorities for 2020. I wonder how many of those strategies anticipated the resilience and agility that 2020 demanded, and how many 2020 strategic plans were achieved!

While 2020 may not have gone to plan, as HR professionals many of us will still be taking time over the next few weeks to prioritize activities for 2021. Below are five areas where we're seeing significant changes from 'business as usual' which, for many of us in HR, are likely to be important areas to consider in our strategic planning:

  1. Employee Engagement and Retention - Keeping employees engaged in circumstances that create increased disconnection between the individual and the organization will continue to be a priority for organizations. Remote working, social distancing - all the precautions to reduce the spread of the virus also have the potential to create distance and disconnect between employees and the organization. Elements like work-life balance, wellbeing, connection, and collaboration will be crucial for employee satisfaction and achieving organizational outcomes. Unless organizations take pro-active steps to compensate for potential disengagement, they may find their organizational culture changes beyond recognition and they begin to see higher number of retention or performance issues.
  2. Personalized Working Arrangements – If you haven’t already started reviewing your existing policies and procedures to ensure they support the organizational priorities heading into next year, now is the time to start. Policies to focus on might include flexible working and paid time off, to ensure your employees and the organization can effectively adjust working practices to suit the needs of employees as well as the organization. The past 12 months have shown that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach can lead to inflexibility and a failure to recognize the unique and individual circumstances that each employee faces. 
  3. Organizational Resilience – Talent acquisition teams are already starting to see changing priorities in what skills and abilities are viewed as important when evaluating candidates. Flexibility and resilience have never been more important! What changes do you anticipate in your organization, and how can you evaluate these during the selection process?
  4. New Ways to Manage – Managers are likely to need training and/or support in managing the changing workplace. This may mean more support in managing teams who are no longer working side-by-side on a regular basis, training on how to give effective feedback remotely, or how to recognize potential mental health issues or other problems when you’re not having the same level of face to face interaction as you’re used to. How will you support your managers in adapting their approach to meet the challenges of our the time? It’s also more challenging for HR to keep its finger on the pulse when there are less opportunities for ‘water cooler conversations’. How will you stay tuned in to the key concerns of your managers and employees without the usual in-person channels of communication?
  5.  Personal wellbeing – While personal wellbeing has been on everyone’s mind this year, our employees and managers look to HR or support and guidance. But who is looking out for HR? It’s easy to overlook our own personal wellbeing. How will you prioritize the wellbeing of you and your team to ensure you are ready to handle whatever 2021 brings?

Sarah Stewart, M.A.
U.K. based service provider for Traaen & Associates LLC
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