Making Ethics Work: A Learning Framework for Maximizing the Impact of Ethics Education



The increasing influence of technology and artificial intelligence across every industry showcases the importance of ethical behavior in the workplace, and investment in ethics education is rapidly growing.

From Salesforce’s recent hiring of Paula Goldman as their Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer to Stanford’s Ethics, Society, and Technology initiatives and programs, organizations and universities are pioneering new ways to integrate ethically sound approaches for building the next generation of products and services. These explorations are also reinvigorating age-old questions, like “what role do institutions play in shaping culture and the society?”, and “what values should we embody?”. With ethereal concepts like these, how can organizations leverage Learning and Development resources to integrate ethical, values-based practices into practical business activities like product development or sales?

First, viewing Ethics as a skillset provides a great starting place for building impactful Learning experiences. Ben Olsen has created a framework called “REAL” that leverages four interlocking concepts that not only underpin specific 21st-century skills, but also are catalysts for building a strong Ethical organizational capability—Responsible, Ethical, and Aspirational Learning:


  • Responsibility is our ability to respond, both reactively and proactively, to the concerns and opportunities of 21st-century business. For example, we can be proactive in our work by building in appropriate care of customer and employee data to establish trust and maintain their privacy and security from the get-go. As well, we can react optimally by adopting transparent, open, and accountable reactions related to the products and services we release and support in-market. Responsibility is then amplified through our Ethics and our Aspirations.


  • The combination of personal and corporate values creates a collective ethical context in which we operate. To maximize individual and organizational learning potential, adopting a global, empathetic and inclusive perspective, such as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, enables individuals and organizations to innovate in potentially sensitive environments and design from the outside in. Openly communicating about individual values and their relation to the organization allows teams to build muscle in traversing the two as well. A healthy values-forward Learning agenda sets the stage for this dynamism.


  • Directing employees towards the aspirational goals of humanity in our lifetime and beyond, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, promote economic growth, and establish gender equality, is a powerful approach for inspiring all to achieve more. They should want more Learning experiences that contribute to their sense of purpose, and the organization’s collective sense of purpose as well.


  • Encouraging employees to adopt a Learning mindset so that they build that Learning muscle is key and making Ethics education engaging with the latest andragogical methods is how you foster its growth. Learning through hands-on application, storytelling, immersive case studies and role play can create fun and safe environments for all to explore the big questions that arise from this work.

A Learning Strategy informed by the REAL framework will not only maximize impact, but also help employees and those they reach live out the wise words of Viktor Emil Frankl, Austrian neurologist, Author, and Holocaust survivor: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

As the world of work reinvents itself for the decades to come, HR professionals can anchor a learning strategy to corporate mission and purpose with frameworks like REAL, and create a thriving and resilient workforce, equipped with responsible, ethical, aspirational, and learning-based approaches to 21st-century challenges and opportunities.



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