By Erica Sosna, BlessingWhite

We could describe 2010 onwards as the decade of the age of ethics. In many areas beyond business – the FIFA Scandal, the MP’s fiddling expenses, the Chilton Enquiry on Iraq, Ed Snowdon’s whistleblowing on Government surveillance, the historic child sex abuse scandals, as well as the mis-selling and rate fixing in banking – we are seeing a rise in a desire for ethical and principled behaviour.

The internet has had a huge impact on this drive. Take the transparency of Glassdoor – where I can review my employer and read the views of employees. Or the ability to blog, tweet, share or indeed overshare, in relation to the principles and practices of my company. This powerful technology has increased the access customers have to reviews, feedback and even gossip about your business.

In order to safeguard your reputation, business leaders need to be thinking about their culture – their ways of working and being and how best to embed these in a way that means that your customers will have only positive things to say about their experience of working with you.

Culture is the ways of doing and being that have gone viral in your organisation. Take a look around you – how would you describe your organisational culture? And how is culture determined? By what your people say, do, reward and recognise.

Take the banking crisis for example. When customers lost trust in the ability of banks to do “good business” with the customer at the heart of the action, it is down to the business leaders to develop a culture that is fit for the future.

Ethical action, or doing the right thing, is determined by the mores and the shared mindset of your business culture. Most individuals recognise what right and wrong look and feel like in their own lives, but what about in an environment in which many people work together to produce and outcome or result? In this context it may not be so easy to be clear about what doing the right thing looks like and who is accountable for it on behalf of your company!

The first question to ask is “What is the leader’s role in a better future?”

Our recent research into leadership in financial services gave us three key roles that leaders themselves identified in developing culture.

1. Giving clear key messages about the direction of the future
2. Knowing what behaviours and mindset are needed for that future state and
3. Rewarding and recognising the kinds of activities and attitudes that reflect the future desired state

Let’s take them in turn.

Changing Minds – a clear picture of the future

In order for culture to shift, individuals need to know what the reasons are for the change, the challenges that will be faced along the way and have a clear and engaging picture of the ultimate destination. Leaders need to appeal to both the logical rationale for shifting the culture and to the emotions, of both anxiety around the risks of not changing and the excitement of a new future possibility.

Change the behaviour: Define what “good” looks and feels like

You may need your people to become more customer-centric, more agile or more innovative, and you may need to alleviate risky behaviours that were previously tolerated. To achieve this, leaders and talent experts need to be able to define what good looks like in both skills and attitude. Involving staff in the discovery of these skill sets and behaviours can help to educate them about the future state and engage them in the solution.

Change the definition of success: Reward and recognise what you want to drive

If you want to shift a culture toward a different future state, you need to consider what behaviours you want to incentivise and then reward and recognise to drive these behaviours. And leaders also need to take clear, timely and assertive action when the new boundaries around what is acceptable are violated.

If I want to move from a silo culture to a more collaborative one, then I need to find ways to incentivise collaboration. Perhaps people have individual targets or goals to become familiar with the services of another part of the business, or to collaborate across regions or subject areas on a piece of work.

Remember culture is the collation of your ideas, customs and behaviour. It doesn’t matter whether you lead an SME or a large corporate bank, to shift it, you need to address all three.