Change the Workplace Change the World Part 2: Building an Organizational Culture Based on Trust, Values, and Ethical Behavior

By Nancy Cebula, PiC

Let us take another look at the principles that leaders use to successfully navigate our turbulent world and treat employees with dignity and respect:

  1. An organizational culture based on trust, values, and ethical behavior
  2. A systems approach to decision making and planning
  3. Open communication with internal and external stakeholders
  4. A shared dynamic vision of the future
  5. A participative leadership structure
  6. A positive work environment
  7. Fair and just treatment of employees and clients/customers
  8. Accountability through a data-driven performance management system

In this post, we are going to explore the first one: an organizational culture based on trust, values, and ethical behavior.

TRUST is considered to be a foundational requirement for successful organizations. Patrick Lencioni puts the Absence of Trust as the base of his pyramid of team dysfunctions and says that until trust is established, teams cannot successfully deal with the next higher dysfunction. (2002) Once all five have been overcome, Lencioni states that the chances of success increase as each of the five is mastered. We will talk about this in another blog stream. Just in case you are curious, the dysfunctions are:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

TRUST can be defined as the qualities, ideals, principles, and philosophies that people use to run their lives. Values express how people treat others and how they want to be treated. Values are a way of articulating the rules that people use to make decisions about right and wrong, what they should and should not do.

Values often represent what drives people at a very deep level. Even though they may be a bit abstract, values provide clarity about which choices are right and which are wrong.  They become dynamic as we translate them into actions.

ETHICAL BEHAVIOR helps people to operationalize the morals they hold and articulate their values. Ethics are often codified into a set of rules that help define an individual’s behavior. They are often organized into a formal set of rules that groups of people adopt to define and set boundaries around appropriate professional behavior.

Ethics can be divided into several levels: Personal, Organizational, and Societal. And there are several types of ethics; Applied, Behavioral, and Compliance. (For more on this, see People in Charge’s Introduction to Ethics e-Course.)


Leadership Strategies

So how do you enhance the trust, values-driven actions and ethical behavior in an organization? Here are some leadership strategies that you could explore:

Building Trust

Words and actions to look for and acknowledge:

Truthfulness, sincerity, candor, loyalty, promise-keeping, honesty


  • Acknowledge the need to develop trust—“What will help us build trust?”
  • Spend time getting to know others to build positive working relationships.
  • Be willing to show your vulnerability – be honest, especially about yourself, admit when you are mistaken and avoid ‘small p’ political posturing.
  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” (William Burrell) Feedback builds self-awareness – for the leaders and their staff.
  • Give people chances to take risks or ask for help when they need it without fear of negative consequences.
  • Remember that trust takes time and needs to be sustained over time.

Encouraging Values-Based Actions

 Words and actions to look for and acknowledge:

Respect, honesty, civility, responsibility, accountability, dependability, fairness, impartiality, compassion, kindness


  • Create, review, or renew your company/agency Organizational Values statement.
  • Create ownership of the organizational values; have employees help review them and draft any new ones that may be needed in the company/agency’s business and social environment.
  • Keep the organizational values in front of employees.
    • Discuss organizational values in staff meetings.
    • Ask teams/departments to create and display a visual representation of the values.
  • Reward those who exhibit the values – create a moving value award for each organizational value and present it to those whose actions demonstrate that value.

Enhancing Ethical Behavior

 Words and actions to look for and acknowledge:

Professionalism, integrity, fairness, dignity, honorable, upstanding, principled


  • Treat employees, clients, and stakeholders with respect and dignity.
  • Create, review, and update a Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct.
  • Ensure that each employee has a copy and understands that this is an important document that explains what appropriate behavior is.
  • Communicate these guidelines in a variety of ways and mediums: New Employee Orientation, on-going performance feedback and development sessions, staff meetings.
  • Present and discuss ethical dilemmas at staff meetings.
  • Use ethical lapses/misconduct issues as learning experiences; ask staff how they would handle the situation; use the Code of Ethics/Conduct as a guide.

Employees who feel respected and valued at work are more likely to be productive and effective at their jobs, have fewer absences, and higher retention rates.



Josephson, Michael. 2002. Making Ethical Decisions. Playa del Rey, CA: Josephson Institute of Ethics.

Lencioni, Patrick. 2002. Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



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