Ethical Leadership and Organizational Culture in Claims

If your organization is not supporting ethical decision-making, your leadership needs to work to change the culture.

September 16, 2016 Photo

Organizational culture represents years of unwritten rules about who is rewarded and why. It is the product of the choices that leadership and employees make, and how they interact with one another and with insureds, claimants, doctors, lawyers, and vendors. Organizational culture reflects how leadership motivates its employees. As a leader in a claims organization, you also must watch and listen to what is occurring both inside and outside your area of influence so that you can address ethical issues before they rise to the level of an ethical dilemma.

If your organizational culture is not supporting ethical decision-making, your leadership needs to work to change the culture. Begin by using the best people to help more fully define the purpose of the organization. Is there an organizational purpose beyond reaching financial goals? In claims, there certainly should be. An ethical leader will provide a clear vision of where the organization is going and how it will get there and will work to ensure that the vision is clearly communicated and understood by all.

An ethical leader will provide the organization with the core values that employees need to make ethical decisions. Practice core ethical values on a daily basis, act honestly, treat all with respect, and accept responsibility for your actions. Additionally, play fair and exhibit compassion, practice what you preach, and avoid falling into the mindset of “it’s all about me.” It isn’t. It is really all about the people who make up the organization, the people who will make or break the leader.

Look around to see how others perceive your actions. Often the perception of others and our personal view of ourselves do not match. It is the unintentional gaps in integrity that hold an organization back in the old culture. Avoid blaming others for a misstep, even if it is only seen by a few. Dodging accountability will damage your credibility as an ethical leader. Unethical behavior erodes the trust that employees have in their leader; ethical behavior is key to trust in leadership.

Avoiding micromanagement is very important for people who have risen to a leadership position through internal promotion. Remember to lead instead of doing and to release control to others and let them do their jobs. Do not become a firefighter, spending your time and effort putting out small fires. Doing this will cause you to lose focus on the bigger goals.

An ethical leader will provide employees with opportunities to participate in decision-making. You want to listen to and act on what others say, so be sure to stress that communication flows in both directions.

A leader needs to have an ongoing and proactive concern about ethics and must avoid the “go along to get along” mindset. You will need to be at your ethical best when times get difficult. It’s imperative to remain strong against the temptation to give in to an unethical decision because you think it is the only way to deal with a crisis. Sometimes being ethical will have a short-term negative consequence, but in the long term, the company and its leadership persevere because they retained the trust of their employees and customers.

An ethical leader will encourage and reward those organization members who achieve goals in an ethical manner, using respect, excellence, and quality. An ethical leader will strike a balance in the implementation of the organization’s performance management system so that long-term goals are supported by short-term projects rather than focusing all resources and energy on short-term gains.

Leadership not only models ethical behavior, but also has the power to remove the barriers that may cause employees to act unethically. How does an ethical leader remove these barriers? By ensuring that short-term priorities align with long-term business goals and by avoiding a “live by the numbers” culture. By removing the pressure to make the predetermined numbers each month, a leader can inspire employees to make more ethical long-term decisions. The pressure to meet unrealistic short-term business objectives is often the catalyst for unethical behavior.

Make ethics part of the corporate culture by integrating it into all core business activities. Make ethics part of the performance management process and provide training. Additionally, make ethics part of the recruitment and promotion process. Provide a mechanism for employees to challenge what they have been told without fear of retaliation. When leadership is questioned, listen and re-examine the decision in light of the employee’s concerns. Work with executives and managers to encourage this type of feedback.

Exemplary ethical leadership is a key factor in changing your culture and making your organization a great place to work. Remember what Peter Drucker once said: “What executives do, what they believe and value, what they reward and whom, are watched, seen, and minutely interpreted throughout the whole organization. And nothing is noticed more quickly—and considered more significant—than a discrepancy between what executives preach and what they expect their associates to practice.”

About The Authors
Donna J. Popow

Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829.

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