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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

It can take a crisis to change an organisation’s behaviour

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Ethical standards for providers of public services

Today, the Committee published a short, online guide for commissioners and providers of public services on how to promote high ethical standards as a follow up to our 2014 report. In a guest blog, Mark Galloway, Executive Vice President at Skanska UK, reflects on how an environmental disaster in Sweden shaped the company’s approach to ethics today.

In 1997, our business in Sweden experienced a major environmental breach on a tunnelling project. The incident poisoned the local water table, leading to the death of fish and cattle. We were front page news for all the wrong reasons, seriously damaging our reputation.

It was a wake-up call for the company and we were determined to learn from it. The incident sparked the start of our sustainability journey and a broader recognition about ‘doing the right thing’ in business.

The health of the business
As a construction business, we often draw parallels between ethics and health and safety, but there is one big difference. If you fall, cut yourself or break a bone you can see and feel the pain. There is a very human reaction and everyone can see and feel the danger.

Ethics can be less tangible but, for the health of the business, it’s more fraught with risk. An ethical breach can bring a company down and, across our global business, it is recognised as our number one business risk.

It’s why we have to watch and listen every day and make a good ethical approach part of our company culture. Ethics is all about people, how we behave and the decisions we make. We need to embed the right values and culture and make sure that at all times we act with honesty and integrity, whether that’s at boardroom or site level.

A global approach to ethics
Our approach to ethics starts from the top. Last year, our global business introduced an Ethics Roadmap. This sets out our vision for ethics, combined with practical steps that help us to improve our culture and the way that we operate in the market. A senior level Ethics Champion in each country is responsible for rallying the national business behind this vision and driving the development of an ethical culture.

In the UK, we have an Ethics Committee that promotes our ethics agenda. It publishes polices, organises training and provides advice and guidance. The committee is supported by our Ethics Representatives. We have a named Ethics Representative for each part of the business, who sit on localised leadership teams and help to promote ethical actions and behaviours The representatives meet twice a year, to share best practice and plan for the future with the aim of keeping ethics alive through an open approach to discussion in all parts of the business.

We have our Code of Conduct that defines how all employees must work, wherever they are based in the world. We run Code of Conduct training for all new recruits and refresher training for existing employees. The training is mandatory and can help us to recognise when something is right or wrong.  

Let’s talk
To encourage debate, we run regular ethical dilemma discussions for all employees. At least four times each year, everyone takes part in business related ethics discussions in their teams. There are not always right or wrong answers. The point is to build understanding and get people comfortable talking about sometimes difficult issues.

If we can get people feeling comfortable and confident in discussing ethical issues, they are more likely to speak up if they see or hear something which they feel is wrong. We regularly communicate the many different ways that people can report a suspected ethical breach; to their manager, their business based Ethics Representative or by calling our Code of Conduct hotline, which can be done anonymously. We follow up every report and communicate outcomes directly and also within the wider business so we can learn and grow from them, and be transparent in doing so.

Ethics is everyone’s responsibility. We need to think about our own behaviour and the actions and decisions we take. We encourage people to use the ‘notice-board’ test. If you wrote a decision you’re about to take up on a public notice-board, would you feel comfortable with it?

Invitations to sporting events, concerts or the offer of gifts are all great examples of where the notice-board test is very effective in making us stop and think. At Skanska we don’t offer or accept such forms of corporate hospitality, instead encouraging attendance at seminars, workshops or a business lunch to build and strengthen relationships.

Driving strong ethical values throughout our company makes complete sense for us as a business and our purpose to build a better society. Through taking an ethical approach we will attract and retain the best people, form stronger relationships with our supply chain partners and be recognised as a company that our clients want to do business with.

We are not the finished article. We can never be complacent and there is always more that we can do. The important thing is that we have learnt from our past and now have an excellent platform to build a best in class ethical culture.

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