Change Management

Empowered with Ethical Leadership




Does stress and the pressure of change impact ethical and professional behaviour? In this interactive session, we will explore: ethical leadership, why it is important in managing change programmes, how social media can help in managing change and lead to ethical leadership, and why focusing on the difference between ethics and compliance can support your project success. Attendees will have an opportunity to debate a real project/ethical dilemma and suggest possible solutions, leaving the floor open for self-analysis and decision making.

Keywords: ethics, leadership, change management, social networking, ethical leadership


Project practitioners have to manage proactively and be able to drive changes at any level—anything from introducing a new technical feature, responding to a legal requirement, implementing a programme, or supporting organisational changes. All these are examples of how our role is, by nature, to manage changes.

While leading projects and programmes, project managers tend to focus on reaching the project's goals as described on the charter and detailed on the plans.

However, delivering the project does not mean that the change is properly promoted throughout the organisation or among stakeholders, even when properly trained.

The main critical aspect during a change is managing people in order to promote and sustain the change, especially when this is related to organisational changes.

Excluding changes that are initiated to respond to legal or business requirements (compliance), most of the projects and programmes are selected and chosen by top management to support organisational strategy.

Nevertheless, projects and programmes will not be successful and will not produce a sustainable change without leading people and managing their issues.

Therefore, the question is: How we can leverage it in a way that is both effective (management) and ethical (people)?

Warren Bennis observes that “failing organisations are usually over-managed and under-led” (Kemp, 2000, p. 207). Therefore, there is a need to see our profession as project leaders, and not simply as managers.

“Leadership is all about change” (Baker, 2001, p.491), and it is clearly and widely considered as the core change enabler, but there is still not a consensus on the best leadership style.

But what kind of leadership style will better support changes and make sure that people will embrace change?

Employees will not embrace changes simply because they are asked for by top management; nor should leaders should use people participation as a mean to force a change in the organisation.

The risk is also connected to the fact that people may comply for extrinsic reason, especially when “change becomes coercion, and influence can become manipulation—and there might be a very thin line between the two” (Denhardt, 2001, p.407).

People tend to follow leaders when they share the same values. Therefore, ethical leadership looks like the more appropriate one when managing changes.


Exhibit 1: Ethical leadership levels.

The first level on the left in Exhibit 1, sidestepping laws and ethics codes, is clearly not ethical leadership. But this cannot be ethical leadership because this self-focused, opportunistic approach to leadership represents a leader operating by following the law and probably operating for personal gain and seeking loopholes.

What about the second level in the middle, as per the above Exhibit 1? Does complying with laws and ethics codes show ethical leadership? When leaders and businesses operate below the level of laws and regulations, they are punished. Here, leaders are only short-sighted, seeking short-term gains without considering long-term consequences and not showing care for the society or team as a whole.

If we settle for leadership at this level, where it's all about complying with law and staying out of jail, then we will be missing many other important aspects of ethical leadership that are well above the punishment threshold.

Ethical leadership is more than just complying with the law and following ethics codes. It is about demonstrating care, thinking, and acting for long-term benefits, and leading with integrity, commitment, and transparency. There is not one unique definition about ethical leadership, but it is clear that it “is a two-part process involving personal moral behaviour and moral influence” (Johnson, 2012, p. xxi).

In today's business world, the rate of change is accelerating and this may lead to stress on individuals—if not led ethically—as they may fear change itself, fear for their jobs or positions, or even fear for too many changes. All these factors will refrain changes to be promoted and stick.

By, Burnes and Oswick (2012, p. 4) found that a leader that promotes a sustainable change in the organisation is one that is pursuing a sustainable interest of many, thus these will become not just passive actors, but change enablers. They value this role, especially as the stakeholders have a positive impact in identifying unethical practices.

The lack of ethical leadership may have a destructive situation: self-interest over everyone's interest; bullying over motivating; and dishonesty over honesty; these can lead to a toxic environment where any change cannot be seeded and will not grow.

Barker (2001, p. 491) states that leadership is “a process of transformative change where the ethics of individuals are integrated into the mores of a community as a means of evolutionary social development.”

The role of ethics in change management is a two-way relationship. The project/ programme manager should understand people's values, create a safe environment where people have the opportunity to share their voice, communicate in an honest way, and be respectful in regard to the received feedback.

On the other side, the employees have the ethical imperative to avoid resistance, lying, or back-stabbing once their concerns have been managed by the leaders, and the organisation's interests fully understood.

Project practitioners are not left alone on this process; even if there is not a ready-made rule book, the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct perfectly supports them on leading change projects and programmes with its four core values: Responsibility, Respect, Honesty, and Fairness (PMI, 2006).

Confronting the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct with the change management associations, we analysed:

  • Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) has an ethics code with the same four ethics values: honesty, responsibility, fairness, and respect (ACMP, 2014).
  • Change Management Institute (CMI) does not have an official ethics code, but does have embedded ethics into their Change Manager Competency Models (CMI, 2008), which are linked to their accreditation programme; this can be observed especially in the Self-Management section (personal responsibility), and partially in the Communication Skills section, even if the focus is more on the effectiveness than on ethics.
  • PROSCI's focus is defining best practices supported through research and does not have an ethics code.

For this reason, the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct can be applied by project practitioners in change management environments.

Nowadays, changes and ethical behaviours have to be managed not only during our projects, but also to use social media properly.


According to Internetworldstats, the European Union has 403 million Internet users. Please see Exhibit 2 for more details about top countries using Internet.

Clearly, we are talking about a population of young, corporate professionals who are already live on social media by the time they join the organisation.


Exhibit 2: EU top Internet countries.

The percentage of Internet users who are engaged in social networking is 89 % for the age group 16–24 year olds, compared with 27 % for 55–74 year olds.

The share of users making telephone and video calls through Internet-based applications was 45 % for the age group of 16–24, compared with 25 % for 55–74 year olds.

The Internet is also widely regarded as a source of information and knowledge. More than 70% of users in all age groups in the EU searched for information about goods or services. Many young people used the Internet as learning support. Most Internet users aged 16-24 consulted wikis (72%); looked for information about education, training, or course offerings (63%); and read online news (61%). One in ten young Internet users took an online course. Please check Exhibit 3 for more details.

Most Internet users in the age group of 25–54 read online news (66%); searched for health information (60%); and consulted wikis (58 %). These activities were also popular among Internet users aged 55–74: nearly 60% read online news and searched for information about health and about half consulted wikis.

While over 50% of Internet users aged between 16 and 54 used social networking sites, fewer than one in five used such sites, blogs, and e-government or other websites to post opinions on civic and political issues.


Exhibit 3: Individuals who used the Internet on average at least once a week, by age group and level of formal education (Eurostat, 2013).

Considering the data and the nature of a young and socially active population joining corporations, it is absolutely essential for them to have guidelines (Eurostat, 2013) such as:

  • What can and cannot be posted online (confidential)
  • How much is too much
  • Which person/product names can be posted
  • What is accepted according to the code of conduct and where it can be found
  • Where and to whom they can report if they see any misconduct or unethical practices


There are some best practices which can be followed by Project management organisations to promote ethical leadership within teams.

1. Training

Ethics training to handle social media has now become one of the most important parts of a company's overall training strategy for both entry-level employees and experienced employees. Although ethics training may not ensure that all employees will always know how to handle difficult ethical situations, it does provide them a foundation for healthy workplace behaviour.

Ethics training encourages employees to think through issues before they act—not out of fear, but out of a responsibility to protect the best interests of the company and themselves.

Recently, it was published that employers can now see private messages on communication platforms such as Yahoo messenger. This is another reason why professionals need to be more aware and cautious about what they are posting.

Organisations need to invest resources for training employees in ethical codes and professional conduct. This requires formal education on what is accepted and what can be called breaches. Instruction should also include reference sources that employees can access in case of doubt:

  • Code of ethics and professional conduct
  • Scenario-based trainings where what is right and what is wrong can be highlighted
  • Ensure ongoing ethics training for all employees by scheduling training sessions at periodic intervals throughout the year

In any organisation, ethical behaviour usually starts at the top and flows down. Schedule ethical training seminars every quarter, and hire professionals to conduct open discussions and live case studies to support the code. Also, project managers must attend this along with their team so that all can collectively engage in ethical business practices.

In a nutshell, these trainings need to ensure that all of the employees will have more liability and responsibility and that they follow a code of conduct to behave ethically.

2. Hiring

Social media can also be used to recruit the best talent. Investing time in recruiting the right people always pays off for an organisation that is working towards being more agile and ethical. Social media can be used here to check their background and past experience.

LinkedIn is one of best examples of a social networking site where you can get information about professionals and their skills and previous experience.

Using social networking sites like LinkedIn for hiring will not only help in searching for the appropriate candidates for jobs where high-level and/or rare technology or skills are required, it also ensures that profiles are correct and not skewed for the job description. Candidate profiles can easily be validated across the organisation so that hiring decisions can be made quickly.

3. Project management

Using cloud-based project management tools helps the workforce to be more productive and increases transparency. This increase in transparency and the ability to access the tool from anywhere keeps the entire team connected and updated on the progress and, thereby reduces the chances of making up stories, doing any unethical reporting, hiring vendors quickly to bridge schedule gaps, and hiding facts about project progress, road blocks, etc.

Tools such as CA Clarity can be used to log efforts and monitor project progress from anywhere in the world.

4. Knowledge sharing

Social networking sites can be easily used for knowledge sharing as they are easy to search, easy to use, and easy to access from a mobile phone. Using social blogs and online forums within organisations can help promote a healthy discussion on ethical issues and possible ways to deal with them. Blogs can be used to drive discussions on processes and road blocks which can be improved and strengthened to promote ethical behaviour. This can be achieved by creating:

  • A blog internal to the company
  • A local app with discussion forums
  • A site outside the company to report ethical breaches or suspected breaches

Social media can be used to share knowledge and promote ethical awareness within teams:

  • Focus groups and surveys can be created to ask for employee input about policies so that organisations can remain current and informed about the growing pressure of work and to avoid possible ethical slippages
  • A moderated wiki page can be created, allowing project managers and members to come together to address concerns or questions and also provide trainings
  • A compliance wiki on the organisation's intranet where employees and managers can share ethics and compliance resources (articles, websites, blogs, books, etc.) and managers can add or download materials for team meetings or to facilitate further discussion can also be set up

Organisations should publish their social media policy, citing what's acceptable and what's not. It should also explain that anyone who posts or publishes any information that relates to the business or employer should make it clear that their opinions are their own, and not those of the organisation.



Alankar Karpe works as senior programme manager for Altisource and has over 15 years of experience. He holds a master's certificate in business analysis from George Washington University, USA and a post-graduate diploma in management from IMDR in Pune, India. He is also the member of PMI's Ethics Member Advisory Group which is a global team of experienced volunteers who are committed to facilitating learning and discussion about ethics and professional conduct in project management among members, credential holders, and practitioners.


Fabio Rigamonti works as a projects and process manager for ECSA Group, a Swiss-based company. He has a master's degree in management engineering and has over ten years of experience in project management. He is also the member of the PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group which is a global team of experienced volunteers who are committed to facilitating learning and discussion about ethics and professional conduct in project management among members, credential holders, and practitioners. He is also a PMI Leadership Institute Master Class Alumnus.


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Association of Change Management Professionals. (2014). Ethics code and professional conduct. Retrieved from

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Change Management Institute. (2008). Change manager master level – Competency model. Retrieved from

Crawford, L., Aitken, A., & Hassner-Nahmias, A. (2014). Project management and organizational change. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Denhart, R. B., Denhart J. V., & Aristigueta M. P. (2001). Managing human behavior in public and non-profit organisations. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

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Johnson, C. E. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Karpe, A. (2014). Ethics @ work. Retrieved from

Kemp, C. O. (2000). Wisdom, honor & hope: The inner path to true greatness. Franklin, TN: The Wisdom Company.

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© 2016, Alankar Karpe, Fabio Rigamonti
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain



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