Are We Missing Something Important? The Role of Human Resource Management in Building the Integrity of Businesses and Organisations

by Dieter Zinnbauer

In this blog post, Dieter Zinnbauer of Transparency International* details an insightful thought experiment on executive commitment to corporate integrity.

Take a short test and start wondering:

1: What sends a stronger signal about executive commitment to corporate integrity and is the more likely pathway to a corporate culture of ethical responsibility?

a) Once your company has been indicted and convicted for pervasive ethical lapses and corruption, put all staff through a compulsory ethics education session from 4 to 5 p.m. on a busy Tuesday, while emails keep on flooding in and work piles up on their desks;


b) Hire people who show a sensibility and mature, practical level of reflection on ethical dilemmas or corruption risks that they might encounter in their prospective roles.

2: When are employees most eager and committed to reflecting on ethical dilemmas and corruption risks that they might face in their jobs?

a) At the recruitment stage when they badly want the job and are eager to shine on all aspects that their future employer might care about;


b) From 4 to 5 p.m. on a busy Tuesday in a compulsory ethics education session, while emails keep on flooding in and work piles up on their desks.

3: What is the most common approach in practice? 

a) Put everyone from 4 to 5 p.m. on a busy Tuesday . . . you get the gist;


b) Make ethical awareness and reflection an explicit criteria in your staff recruitment process.

4: Interviews** with HR experts and practitioners indicate that most believe in the potential and importance of using the recruitment stage for promoting corporate integrity, yet they report that little is happening in practice. Why is this the case?

a) Do not know;


b) Do not know.

5: Even if a recruit has successfully “faked” sensibility of ethical issues he or she (tick all that apply)

a) will have at least thought about and reflected on the ethical dilemmas, conflicts of interest, and bribery risks that he or she will face in the job;


b) might have changed his mind somewhat as a consequence of what social psychologists call counter-attitudinal advocacy (having people take and publicly argue for a position they disagree with makes them more likely to begin sympathising with it, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance).


So what are the most promising techniques to use in the recruitment stage to gauge ethical sensibilities and have potential employees reflect on ethical dilemmas? What is already practiced, and what has been found to work? Any ideas?

Please discuss:------------------------------------------------


* Transparency International has adopted promoting business integrity as one of its strategic priorities. We undertake a number of diagnostic, collective action and advocacy initiatives in this area (see here for more).

** We actively seek to incubate fresh ideas and approaches for enhancing business integrity, and have recently worked with a group of students at the Norwegian School of Economics who interviewed human resource professionals about the current and future role of HR in supporting corporate integrity.