Integrity and Ethics in a Governance Program
Published in the “Ethics: Black or White (or Gray?)”
By Financial Executives of the Philippines (FINEX)
Author: Jesus P. Estanislao, Ph.D.
- The advocacy for good governance is, in essence, an advocacy against corruption, lack of integrity as well as the disregard of ethical principles in all sectors of society: government, business, and civil society. Enterprises in any of these sectors adopting a governance and transformation program are in effect into proper observance of integrity and ethics in all facets and levels of their operations.
- It is imperative, therefore, that enterprises aiming to raise their standards of observance of integrity and ethics are mindful of the governance framework, discipline, and demands for sustainability. All these call for a long-term horizon within which the enterprise can and should be transformed such that it ends up well (with high performance levels attained) by doing good for the wider community (i.e., society and the polity as a whole).
- The transformation of an enterprise can be sustained over a long period only if an Integrity and Ethics Program is pursued on a continuing and creative basis, with the individuals working within the enterprise ending up as its ultimate governance assets. Such a program has to be pitched to everyone within the enterprise, from the lowest to the highest rungs of the enterprise ladder, without any exception. Indeed, an enterprise culture— pervaded by the principles and practices of Integrity and Ethics—has to be created to inspire all the decisions and actions of all individuals within the enterprise.
Promoting a Culture of Integrity
- An enterprise with a long-term governance and transformation program needs to adopt a clear governance charter with its components, i.e., core values, mission or core purpose, and vision (or dream) of what it should become within a long-term but foreseeable future. The key challenge for any enterprise is to ensure that these basic governance charter components do not remain on paper. These need to be brought down to the smallest details associated with the functioning of the enterprise, i.e., into all the decisions and actions of every individual connected with it.
- This would all remain a pipe dream, however, unless an Integrity Program is pursued and constantly nurtured, with these 3 basic characteristics embedded into the heart, mind, and hands of every individual within the enterprise:
- Consistency. The actions and decisions of every individual need to be fully in line with the core values of the enterprise governance charter.
- Cohesiveness. Every individual works in a spirit of unity and solidarity with all others so as to enable the enterprise to carry out its mission and serve its core purpose.
- Completeness. Every individual is called upon to take due care such that all facets and levels of enterprise operations are oriented and directed towards the realization of the enterprise vision.
- These three “C”s of an enterprise Integrity Program can be made to take on real flesh and substance in the day-to-day running of the enterprise if it is diligent, smart, and clear-headed about the few, strategic, transformative game-changers it commits to pursue. These few game-changers are often referred to as the enterprise’s priorities. In pursuit of these priorities, the enterprise acknowledges and observes the essential, unbreakable link and connection between Integrity and Ethics.
Promoting an Ethical Culture
- In pursuit of its strategic priorities, the enterprise cannot and should not stop at the three “C”s of its Integrity Program. It should also ensure that all decisions and actions—on the part of everyone associated with the enterprise—are observant of these personal ethical principles:
- Fairness, which requires that everyone in the enterprise gives to all its stakeholders their due.
- Courage, which has its own demands on everyone within the enterprise to face up to all external odds with inner strength and unfaltering perseverance.
- Discipline, which makes the same demands on everyone against all internal odds.
- Ethics goes way beyond insisting on the above personal principles. It also asks that strategy execution on the part of the enterprise should aim to leave a positive socio-economic imprint on the broader environment. This is possible only if every individual working within the enterprise goes about the discharge of their day-to-day duties with commitment (coming from the heart), with competence and professionalism (involving the proper use of the mind and acquired skills), and with patriotism (nourishing everyone’s spirit with love of country). Commitment, competence, and patriotism are facilitated by the observance of the following social ethical principles:
- Respect and promotion of the personal dignity of everyone, starting with all others working within the enterprise, and ending with everyone else in the political economy.
- The welfare and development of the wider community, i.e., the common good of everyone in the political economy, should never be taken off the radar screen of anyone in the enterprise. Indeed, this should be at the very center of their concerns and aspirations.
- The smart combination of bringing decision-making down to the lowest possible rung of the enterprise ladder (often called subsidiarity) and of ensuring that every decision and action at whatever level (from the lowest to the highest rung) are in sync with the work of all enterprise teams and with the enterprise’s long-term vision.
- It is clear from the above that an enterprise program on Integrity and Ethics should be carried out and pursued on a sustained basis over the long term. After all, it seeks to embed and shape a governance character in every individual within the enterprise. This can be done by inculcating governance habits through the use of personal governance scorecards, a continuing internal communication program, and the formulation (via evolution) of a code of proper governance conduct for the enterprise. Such a governance character is strengthened by an enterprise-facilitated outreach to families, schools, and the other sectors of the wider community, that aims to spread the culture of integrity and ethics beyond the enterprise.
About the author:
Jesus P. Estanislao holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, and an M.A. in Economics from Fordham University. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Center for Excellence in Governance and Center for School Governance, as well as Chairman Emeritus of the Institute of Corporate Directors. The founding President of the University of Asia & the Pacific, he also served the Philippine government in various capacities: Secretary for Economic Planning, Secretary of Finance, and Chairman of the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines.