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Deutsche Telekom opens organisation-wide ethics investigation

T-Mobile Deutsche Telekom

Deutsche Telekom has, somewhat bravely, announced an organisation-wide internal investigation in a bid to reorganise its ethical culture.

In a year-long project, the international telco conglomerate is taking an introspective approach to corporate culture. DT confirmed it’s going to be investigating its ethical culture and processes across the entire organisation, which has operations in mobile, fixed and business markets across Europe and in North America.

To do so, it has hired an intercontinental panel of ethics experts, ranging from DT employees to university professors, researchers and consultants. The investigation will begin by looking at the daily culture within the organisation and analyse what leads to “inappropriate behaviour”, according to Manuela Mackert, DT’s Chief Compliance Officer.

“The first step is to analyse how our corporate culture works on a day-to-day basis and the causes of inappropriate behaviour,” she said. “Then, with the help of an expert panel, we will work on how to improve our compliance-oriented corporate culture.”

DT board member for data privacy, legal affairs and compliance, Thomas Kremer, suggested that it’s not enough to simply dissuade people from acting in an unethical manner; rather, the entire culture needs to encourage employees to speak up – also known as whistleblowing.

“Establishing what’s called a compliance management system is not enough to prevent, investigate and punish rule breaking,” Kremer said. “An appropriate corporate culture, where employees feel able to speak out against inappropriate behaviour, also has a vital role to play.”

A top-down approach to cultural and ethical attitudes is seen as pivotal to implementing change, according to non-profit business ethics research website Ethical Systems.

“Leadership is essential to driving the ethical culture from a formal and informal perspective,” it says. “Formally, leaders provide the resources to implement structures and programs that support ethics. More informally, through their own behaviour, leaders are role models whose actions speak louder than words, conveying ‘how we do things around here’.”

While the initiative should be applauded, the real test will be in how Deutsche implements the findings of the investigation, according to Jennifer Janson, MD of corporate reputation management consultancy Six Degrees.

“Deutsche Telekom’s ethics review sounds like an excellent idea – especially in an industry that has long been plagued by reports of corruption,” Janson told Telecoms.com. “The real test, however, will be in how the company reacts to the findings. If it can be the driver for genuine behaviour change at every level of the organisation it will have been a project worth doing.

“The telecoms industry seems to be waking up to the fact that when it comes to reputation there’s nothing more important that making sure the behavior of ALL of your people is aligned with the company’s core values. Sometimes that might compromise short term profit, but it will pay off in the long run.”

DT plans on concluding its investigation by mid-2017, at which point it will produce a white paper presenting its findings on how to create a culture that minimises the risk of litigation. Deutsche’s initiative and openness should be applauded as it introspectively assesses its own culture and potential ethical failings.


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