Business ethics, decent work and corporate social responsibility

Traditionally, businesses have focused almost exclusively on generating profit for their owners and shareholders but, increasingly, this is changing. As societies become more aware of the impact of business operations on people and planet, consumers are no longer willing to buy from those that seek to cut corners, exploit their workers, or turn a blind eye to ethical issues in their supply chain.

Societies worldwide are demanding that businesses treat their workers fairly, valuing them, providing a good standard of working conditions, and paying them a living wage. Companies are expected to focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

But, more than just being something that organisations do to avoid negative impacts, demonstrating good ethics and social responsibility is a positive choice that can help organisations become an ‘employer of choice’ standing head and shoulders above the competition. In today’s world, in order to attract and retain the best talent, businesses need to go beyond money and job descriptions and make a compelling case to would-be employees about how their organisation is a force for good in the world, having a positive impact on planet, people and local communities.

People want to work for organisations that can help make the world a better place and whose values and actions resonate with their own passions for sustainability, community, fairness and ethics in practice. Doing so engages, motivates and inspires them in their work, unleashing innovation and productivity.

Looking at the decade ahead, business ethics are going to be increasingly important, in the context of the changing global political landscape, climate crisis and the rising cost of living. Businesses will be forced to review where and how they do business.

In addition, increased automation and AI in the workplace will raise questions around businesses’ responsibilities to their current and future workforce, as well as how to avoid bias and the ethics concerning what decisions are removed from human cognition. As organisations push the frontiers of space, there will be new boundaries and ground rules to establish.

Our work in this area looks at how organisations can treat workers more fairly and be more socially responsible.

Our research is helping skilled migrant workers integrate into society, access employment and progress in their careers. We have also worked directly with survivors of human trafficking, refugees and the organisations that support and represent them.

Finally, we work with governments, policy makers and regulators to tackle modern slavery and precarious working, and to develop a green economy that incorporates decent work and a just transition that is fair to workers.

We can help organisations to:

  • Improve transparency and accountability in their leadership and governance,
  • Become an employer of choice in their sector, attracting and retaining the best talent,
  • Engage, motivate and inspire their workforce by being a force for good in the world,
  • Developing a sustainable HRM strategy,
  • Develop an ethical business culture,
  • Eliminate corruption in their interactions with stakeholders.

Digital HRM

The rate of technological advancement over the past 50 years has been unprecedented, and continues to accelerate. With the creation of new technologies comes opportunities for new approaches in managing people that may improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of people management.

We have seen the growth of HR information systems, electronic HRM (e-HRM), and the use of social media in communication, collaboration and the attraction and management of employees.

More recently, organisations are exploring the potential of new technologies such as wearable and workplace sensors; virtual and augmented reality; and artificial intelligence and the broader digitalisation of HRM.

Despite these advances, evidence suggests only a few organisations are currently realising the benefits of even the most basic digital HRM systems. Our research shows many new technologies are introduced without the proper planning or cultural development, and therefore do not achieve their true value or potential. Few organisations have so far been brave enough to use the most modern technologies.

Our research in this area has looked at how quantified self technologies such as wearable and workplace sensors may facilitate improved employee performance.

Having worked with the likes of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development,, and AOL in this area, we have a deep understanding of how digital HRM and social media can be used by organisations to provide efficiency, effectiveness and transformative benefits.

Rather than providing a singular tool or solution, we work with organisations to examine their needs and explore the technology available, identifying the most effective way to adopt and implement it. Taking a sociotechnical approach, we consider not just the acceptance of the technology but also the potential impact of digitalisation on existing systems and ways of working.

We can:

  • Undertake research into the potential use of emerging technologies for HRM in a particular organisation, sector or industry;
  • Support organisations to develop a needs analysis and implementation plan, and to decide on the most appropriate use of technology to digitally transform their HR function considering the wider social and cultural context;
  • Work with partners within and outside Cranfield University to provide technological as well as social and cultural support, particularly in relation to emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality, and wearable technologies;
  • Develop customised programmes that use emerging and digital technologies like socio-metric badges and wearables as diagnostic and developmental devices to examine performance and factors affecting performance in individuals and teams, team interaction and team leadership.

Managing performance

A crucial aspect influencing an organisation’s performance is the people it employs. People’s actions, and the collective performance of their teams, can lead to greater efficiency, sales, customer satisfaction and wellbeing.

By collecting and analysing performance data and developing appropriate mechanisms to review and reward it as may be appropriate, businesses can improve their results, encouraging valuable behaviours, and discouraging conduct that may be harmful.

Organisations that implement fit-for-purpose performance management systems benefit from stronger teams that are more engaged and collaborate better. They are more innovative and ultimately more successful in progressing towards their goals.

Working closely with Cranfield’s Centre for Business Performance, our research looks at how organisational governance systems in general, and performance management systems in particular, can be best designed, implemented, used and maintained to measure and manage individual employee and team performance.

We work with global, medium, and small organisations in the private, public and third sectors to help them deliver their missions, develop healthy environments, and build cultures of continuous improvement.

We can help organisations to:

  • Understand the impact performance measures, targets, and rewards have on behaviour and decision-making;
  • Extract actionable insights from their performance data;
  • Identify and understand skills gaps shown by the data, and plan for how to close them;
  • Design performance management systems, executive compensation schemes and other HR initiatives that will help them attract, motivate, and retain the right talent.

We can also:

  • Conduct research into important issues surrounding organisational governance;
  • Create practical development programmes and workshops that help organisations to better manage their teams and improve performance;
  • Provide access to a network of executives with a shared desire to improve their organisations’ business performance measurement practices to offer peer-to-peer challenge, discussion and learning in a non-competitive environment.

Visit the Centre for Business Performance

Employee engagement

Discussions about ‘engagement’ in organisations are nothing new, and yet the topic remains ill-defined and somewhat intangible.

Many organisations carry out an annual employee engagement survey, but such measures may not give the full picture, making interpreting the results and understanding what to do about them tricky.

Broadly speaking, engagement can be divided into two areas: organisational engagement (how do people feel about the organisation they work for) and job engagement (how do they feel about the work they do). It is also not just about how people feel, but about how that feeling influences their behaviour and actions.

People may like their job and enjoy the work they do, but not feel very positive about their organisation, or they may have joined an organisation in a job that isn’t a great fit for them because they believe in the mission or work of the organisation as a whole. In the ideal scenario, employees would be highly engaged with both the work they do and with the organisation.

Organisational engagement is generally influenced by how employees experience their organisation through their interaction or interactions with it, and isn’t limited to just the employer-employee relationship dynamic. Many employees may also be customers or clients of their organisation, or may experience their company by reputation if it is known in the media or local community.

Evidence suggests that when people feel attuned to their organisation and to their specific job role, they do their best work. Most people want to gain satisfaction from the work they do – in addition to a monetary reward, this may be related to some meaning and sense of achievement associated with what they do. This means that not only should employee engagement be considered important to an organisation, but also that the potential exists to influence it positively.

Our faculty experts in this area are members of the steering group for Engage for Success, a voluntary business collective sharing good practice and seeking to influence policy in the area of employee engagement.

We can help organisations to:

  • Gain a genuine understanding of what engagement is, and the potential a highly engaged workforce can yield,
  • Understand their engagement or commitment score, and what they can do about it,
  • Shape their approach to employee engagement,
  • In conjunction with our colleagues working in other areas of the School of Management, develop the strategic direction, articulate the vision and build the culture that encourages engagement.

Team working, integration and wellbeing

If individuals are complex, then team dynamics are necessarily even more so. When you bring together a collection of people from different backgrounds, with different knowledge, experiences and ways of looking at the world, you can create magic, or friction.

Managing individual differences effectively can be the difference between organisational success and failure, between creativity and stagnation, and between innovation and being behind the times.

Our research in this area looks at how organisations can design their work around the individuals they employ and make that work in practice. We are interested in how teams come together to tackle their collective tasks and responsibilities, and how they hold each other accountable. Our work looks at how humans interact, and how they individually and collectively interpret those interactions, solve the problems those interactions cause, and come together as a group to make sense of their interactions with technology and artificial intelligence.

On a practical level, we apply this research to help organisations to:

  • Make sense of complex team dynamics, understanding what impacts quality and performance and what can be done about it;
  • Learn how to manage different personalities and use them to advantage to benefit the business and effect different outcomes;
  • Understand the causes of team stress and implement effective wellbeing and stress-management practices;
  • Plan for and implement the merging of different teams, including strategies for managing individual requirements, minimising stress and encouraging wellbeing;
  • Evaluate their practices in hiring and supporting workers from overseas, including integration with their existing workforce, individual wellbeing and worker retention.