insight magazine

Ethics Engaged | Summer 2019

The Importance of Ethics in Change Management

Leading change takes tact and integrity. Here is how to ingrain the right ethics in your approach to change management.
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner Head of Finance, International Legal Technology Association

Today’s pace of business is rapid, and change is more of the norm than not. Organizational change, from business structure (merger, acquisition, dissolution, spin-off, etc.) to strategy initiatives, system or process improvements, and personnel changes, is almost guaranteed to impact you and the people you lead sooner or later. Do you see ethics threaded through your change management processes? You should, because it is one of the key elements to successful adoption and execution of change.


When you consider how necessary it is for businesses to implement changes to stay competitive, increase efficiency, and develop people, it is clear that business leaders must be the ones to inspire and champion positive change. Organizations can approach change in a couple of ways.

First, top leaders can decide upon change and push it down to the rest of the organization. In some instances, like a merger or acquisition, this approach makes the most sense due to the confidential nature of these deals.

Second, top leaders can involve other leaders and staff in the business to help decide what change to make. A system or process improvement change is a good example where weigh-in from the other leaders and staff will help with buy-in of the overall decision.

While most good leaders know that significant technical components are involved when change happens, they also need to consider the non-technical components like ethics, relationship management, and communication.

As humans, we generally like routines because they feel safe. We know how to do our jobs a certain way and adapt our style to the circumstances. If we remain in the same state for several months or even years, it becomes difficult to see change as good for us as individuals. Change can often create fear of the unknown about how our responsibilities will be different. We show different responses to change: embrace it and move forward enthusiastically, accept it and get by, or actively resist it. As a leader, you must be able to recognize and respond to these behaviors in yourself and in your staff.


Change brings uncertainty, and employees may feel pressured to agree with the change or risk being terminated. Some management behaviors that lead to this environment include bullying people into change instead of motivating them or not being truthful about the reason for change. If this type of environment exists, change can bring negative behaviors, such as job dissatisfaction, lack of innovation, groupthink, forced conformity, lack of productivity, conflict, and turnover.

If you want to lead change with integrity, you must ingrain ethics in your approach to change management. How do you accomplish this objective? Consider the tips below:

1. Communicate honestly and transparently the reason for the change
a. An acquisition will help the company be more competitive

b. A system change will improve accuracy and speed of data

2. Treat employees as an essential part of the change process
a. Employees are not a means to an end. Some may view them as hammers to get the job done; ensure the company and its leaders care about the hammers as people

b. Employees can develop new professional skills when playing a role in managing change

3. Offer change management and ethics training before and during a change
a. Change management training shows employees that the organization is invested in their adaptation to business changes

b. Ethics training specifically further instills why doing something right the first time is important to implementing change

4. Distribute information about the changes and give people a chance to comment a. An organization’s intranet is a good place to post communication about change and an FAQ document for employees to reference for communicating with outside stakeholders

b. Provide opportunities for both open discussion and private feedback

5. Manage the change and assign clear expectations and responsibilities
a. Encourage teamwork and celebrate accomplishments of meeting milestones

b. Incentivize employees throughout the change to give them a stake in the success of the change process


Many people associate change with a negative emotion when they hear it is looming. An abrupt personnel change, for instance, may be tough for you to communicate, especially if you did not initiate the change or agree with it. In this situation, you may not be the best person to communicate the change to others. People can read our micro expressions and evaluate if they are congruent or incongruent with our speech. If you need to communicate a personnel change, or another difficult situation, stick to the facts and ensure people are feeling supported. If they are not at risk of losing their jobs in the near-term, tell them. Lying to staff will only lose you and the organization credibility — more importantly, telling the truth, even when it is difficult, is the right thing to do.

Hopefully, more often the organizational change you experience will be positive and improve the organization and the lives of the people it impacts. For example, perhaps a vendor is underperforming and a switch to a new one will be easier once the transition is completed. While the change itself may be tedious, the result of the change will be good for the individuals involved with the relationship management and administration relating to the vendor. When the impacts of this change are appropriately communicated, it is easier for employees to endure short-term hardship for long-term improvement.

The point with these examples is that it is important for leaders to remember that change comes in many forms. While large changes take more management and leadership, small changes can still have significant impacts on a business and its people. Something as simple as moving a recurring meeting from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m. may impact a colleague’s commute, family schedule, interaction with other team members, and morale.

As with organizational change, even small changes in your leadership approach can have mighty outcomes. Awareness of effective change management techniques in all types of change can help you build better habits and make larger change management projects easier. As a leader, you must take part in the transition activities to show you are invested in the work to make change happen. Always be honest about the work it will take to implement change. Your accountability and honesty will motivate others to work toward the change you want and the change your organization needs.

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA, CGMA, CITP, DTM, is the head of finance at the International Legal Technology Association. She has been an ICPAS member since 2005.

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