Laws- Source of ethical guidance

Organisational values emerge through tradition but can also emerge as a result of a radical change to an organisation brought about by critical events. Development of values requires considerable effort and consistency over time. Short-term measures, such as the development and publicising of values statements in offices are an important first step, but are limited in terms of their impact.

Moving beyond this level towards behavioural (or external) and eventually attitudinal (or internal) change amongst employees in an organisation requires training and the reinforcement of value sets through multiple interactions and activities.

The ultimate goal is to achieve a situation whereby organisational values are instinctively understood and form the basis of action by all members of an organisation. This is a long-term goal and therefore requires that values are constantly addressed and reinforced.

While values are absorbed through a variety of informal means, formal methods are also important in shaping them. Codes of practice and ethics legislation alone are not sufficient to ensure that public service work is performed in the context of a particular set of values. It may be necessary to develop other measures, including whistle blower protection legislation, effective auditing and reporting regimes, freedom of information legislation and training in the application of ethical standards.

The best way to promote and manage public ethics involves the following ‘vital elements’:

    • Recognise and assert the importance of ethics to good government
    • Integrate the management of ethics into the wider system
    • Exercise leadership from the centre and demand similar leadership in departments
    • Promote through a combination of standards, guidance, education and recognition of good practice
    • Allow information to flow to inform and guide devolved decision making

Heintzman suggests that several key factors promote values in the public service which are as follows;

    • Effectiveness of the organisation’s leaders in providing clear value leadership
    • Existing strength of the value culture within the organisation
    • Identification of high-risk ‘zones’ which require strong control and monitoring activity; such zones include areas of the public service where individual staff retain the power to confer or withhold a benefit
    • Strength and efficacy of the control systems within the organisation.

There are several avenues through which the values can be instilled in the public service. These are as follows; 

    • Leadership Leadership is frequently identified as a much sought-after value for civil services. Leaders influence not through their advocacy of value statements but through their words and actions. 

For example, after the failure of SLV-2 experiment, Satish Dhawan took the responsibility of failure and when the SLV-3 experiment met with success, he credited the team working on the mission under Dr Kalam. 

    • Working environmentValues are manifested informally in everyday work practices and transactions. Public servants absorb ‘traditional’ values through various means of socialisation, the most important of which is the ‘local’ organisational culture in which they work. This process can be enhanced by rewards and sanctions, although, there is an inherent danger that the intrinsic motivation for employee behaviour may be compromised by rewards or sanctions. 
    • Workable codes of conduct and values statementsValues are normally recognised formally in codes of conduct and legal frameworks as they provide a means for translating values into practice. 
    • Professional socialisation mechanisms (such as training)Induction and orientation programmes for new recruits provide an important opportunity for discussion on public service values and communicating them required standards of behaviour expected of them. 

The objective of training for public servants to train them in a way so they can think about values and ethics, how to discern values and ethical issues in the public sector, and how to deal with moral dilemmas and conflicts. Such training is particularly pertinent for those recruited directly into middle management levels and above, who may not have the same level of exposure to public service values as those who have come ‘through the ranks’.

Training in respect of values should not be a once-off event for new recruits but routine staff assessment of the performance of an organisation in respect of its values statement is a worthwhile exercise.

  • Risk reviewValues can be enhanced by reviewing potential risk areas and developing a values and ethics risk management strategy. For example, certain elements of public service work are more sensitive to value conflicts than others such as tax, customs and justice administration etc. As a consequence, specialist codes of conduct are designated for these services.
  • Controls Effective controls are arguably the dominant factor in ensuring high levels of values and ethics performance in public organisations. Such controls include:
    • Clear policies, procedures and controls
    • Separation of duties and oversight
    • Effective monitoring, audit and reporting
    • Clear mechanisms for reporting wrongdoing
    • Effective and transparent action when wrongdoing is discovered.

In an era when, internationally, trust in public institutions has been undermined by scandals and incidents of malpractice, it is timely to consider the basic values on which public organisations are built.

Confidence in the public service requires the development of a value-based culture through training, leadership and codes of conduct and values statements, combined with preventative measures and recourse mechanisms. Performance of governance can only be enhanced through meaningful integration into all aspects of the work of the service.