Help employees turn values into action with the OODA loop

G. Richard Shell ( is the Thomas Gerrity Professor of Legal Studies, Business Ethics, and Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He has authored numerous books on influence, persuasion, and negotiation, including The Conscience Code: Lead with Your Values. Advance Your Career.

I recently heard from a former student, “Beth,” about an awkward situation she had encountered at work. Beth is a remarkable young woman: a Wharton School graduate who went back to school at the New York University to get a second undergraduate degree, this time in nursing. She is now an award-winning emergency room nurse in New York. Her educational background is unusual, but her passion for values is typical of her generation. She reported that a new supervisor had called a team meeting to go over some routine scheduling issues, and near the end of the meeting, the supervisor asked everyone, “as a favor,” to sign off on paperwork related to safety checks of emergency room equipment. Someone had dropped the ball. The supervisor needed the team to cover for them.

“I looked at the forms,” Beth said. “And I realized I was being asked to say I had done safety checks on days I had not been at work. There was no way I was going to do that, so I refused. The supervisor tried to shame me in front of the group for not being a team player, but I held my ground. It was awkward, but I knew I was right to say no. And once I did, the rest of the team said they felt the same way.”

Research suggests that millennial and Gen Z employees like Beth are passionate about finding work that has personal meaning.[1] But I think Beth’s story carries another lesson: People who find their work meaningful are especially determined advocates for the core values that give that work dignity. After all, people who care deeply about nature do not trash their campsites, and it is the same for employees who are proud of the work they do; they see wrongdoing by colleagues as a type of pollution of their work environment. They want to prevent it if they can and fix it if they must.

So here is a tip: As your firm brings people back to the normal routine of the office, try targeting these leaders to become champions for your ethical culture.

Below, I present a simple, four-stage framework I have developed in partnership with the millennial and Gen Z students I teach. A more extensive treatment of it can be found in my book, The Conscience Code: Lead with Your Values. Advance Your Career.[2]

Keep employees like Beth in mind as you review this model. People like her do not need to be trained in ethics and compliance. They need to be inspired, empowered, and then strongly supported.

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