According to my colleague Kevin Moore, who is CISI’s director of global business development, “A lie is a lie, wherever you are in the world”.
His comment is based on his experience of presenting the CISI’s Integrity at Work interactive workshop to audiences in the UK and internationally.
In this article, the first of three on business ethics, we will focus on anecdotal observations from CISI facilitators when presenting its sessions in different countries and to audiences of a range of ages and levels of seniority.
Lying is frowned upon almost universally in most cultures. This sentiment is witnessed across all ages and levels of seniority. In some countries, this attitude towards truth-telling is particularly strong when family is involved.
One of the scenarios used in the workshops places attendees in a hypothetical situation in which they find out that their brother-in-law, with whom they work, is on a list for possible redundancies.
The brother-in-law is considering sending his son to an expensive university and at a family dinner you are asked by your mother whether you think his job is safe, as she is aware of problems in the industry.
Generally, audience members feel a sharp conflict between keeping company information secure and family loyalty, and will vote to simply change the subject or to refuse to divulge any confidential information.
However, in some cultures, family loyalty comes first. For example, some European audiences in countries such as Italy and Greece respond by saying you would not lie to your mother, no matter what other pressures or responsibilities you may have.
Additionally, in the Middle East, there is an emphasis on cultural duty to support one’s family. It would therefore be unacceptable to withhold important information from your mother or brother-in-law.
Alongside common disdain for lying among global audiences, there is a shared respect for the viewpoints of others and a willingness to let people voice their opinions. Even though audience members tend to be split fairly evenly between two or three possible courses of action in a given scenario, people rarely interrupt others or show any contempt for what colleagues had said.
Nevertheless, encouraging people to voice their opinions can sometimes be a challenge. In certain countries, and in firms where speaking up is encouraged, sharing a point of view or making a comment is often seen as a way for individuals to get noticed in the organisation, especially if there is a mix of managers as well as junior employees in attendance at the same workshop.
Experience has shown that participants, particularly in Nigeria and Latin America, enjoy debating, and facilitators have often needed to do little prompting to encourage attendees to contribute to the discussion.
However, in other locations there is a deeply ingrained tradition of respecting the role of the teacher. This can make facilitating a workshop challenging, given there are no right answers and the value is derived from dissent and debate.
As well as cultural differences, there are general trends in how people respond based on their age and experience. One facilitator noted: “Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by the active, often feisty engagement of young – late teens, early 20s – people.”
Others agreed younger people tend to be the most engaged audience members and that they often give markedly different answers to their more senior colleagues.
For instance, one of the scenarios used in the workshops introduces an employee, who has worked for your firm for a number of years and has been very successful. However, you find out, just as you are about to invite them to join the board, that they lied on their CV about holding a university degree. The employee explains their mother had passed away suddenly and therefore they left university a week before sitting the final exams.
In this case, older audience members tend to be more lenient and recommend that the employee be asked to resign, whereas younger attendees take a stricter view and recommend the employee be fired.
These differences and similarities across cultures, locations, ages and levels of experience should be celebrated. The most important conclusion from the CISI Integrity at Work presentation is to value discussion and debate with colleagues, as this can help us to make better, more informed decisions.
This is a message that can be understood all over the world as, in the CISI’s experience, nobody has disagreed with the importance of ‘doing the right thing’.