Doing the right thing at Dot Dot Dot

September 20, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

From day one, Dot Dot Dot has set out to be a company that acts ethically – for our guardians, for property owners, for staff and for the wider community. As the founder, I believe that there is no point in being a social enterprise if you behave badly while trying to achieve your mission.  Indeed, proving that it is possible to be a successful company because you behave with integrity – not despite it – is in itself part of how we aim to make the world a better place  

Dot Dot Dot’s commitment to behaving ethically and fairly is written into our governing documents – the papers all companies must have which set out how they are to be run. Ethical behaviour is also at the top of the list of criteria we consider when making decisions at all scales – you can read more about Dot Dot Dot’s decision-making hierarchy in a previous blog post.

But how does this commitment translate into practice?  What does it mean to be an ethical business from day to day, and how do we know that we are on track?

Ethics and company culture

Our approach at Dot Dot Dot is to focus on creating a working culture where it is the norm to consider what is right and wrong when making decisions.  We try to ensure that team members bear this in mind in their daily work and are rewarded when they do so.  Adherence to our values is part of staff performance reviews, and when we are recruiting new staff we look for people who demonstrate integrity, fairness and concern for others. 

We choose this approach over a more prescriptive system where staff are trained on a list of moral rules.  This is because most of us have a sense of what the ethical thing to do is in most situations – the greater challenge is to remember to think about this when under pressure. We want to make sure staff feel empowered to do the right thing, even when it isn’t the most advantageous to the business in the short term. 

Current thinking on management best practice backs up this approach. Recent Harvard Business Review articles emphasise the importance of company culture as the best tool to prevent ethical lapses, and highlight the long-term risks to businesses which allow ethical considerations to slide.

And while there will always be edge cases, where you could argue a scenario either way, or where there is a trade-off between benefits to one group or another, these situations are often exact examples of where codes of conduct fail.  It’s more important to have staff thinking for themselves, and aware that they will be challenged by others if they don’t make a fair choice.

Watching out for ethical blind-spots

However, even the best-intentioned people can make bad judgements based on unconscious cognitive biases.  We may expect certain behaviours from certain groups of people or we may favour people from our own circles.  And we may see our own actions in a more favourable light than the same actions taken by someone else.  Because these biases are unconscious, it is hard to notice them and correct them. 

To deal with these challenges, we first try to make sure that we are aware of them as much as possible.  Everyone in the team attends training on diversity and inclusion, and recent mental health training means that the majority of the team are now Mental Health First Aiders. 

Our recruitment process

On top of this, we have put systems in place to eliminate unconscious bias wherever possible.  For example, our recruitment platform, Applied, allows us to assess candidates without knowing any of their demographic details, and which enables them to demonstrate their capacity to excel at the job rather than focusing on their track record elsewhere.  

This has helped us to bring in candidates who are perfect for their roles despite having career histories we didn’t anticipate.  It also means that our unconscious biases for or against any group isn’t a factor in whether they get shortlisted.

Creating accountability

Finally, we have created accountability for team-members at every level, so that individual judgements are checked by others with the power to challenge them.  

This goes all the way to the top – in 2019 we added a board of non-executive directors, with the power to challenge me as the founder, as well as the rest of the leadership team. The board was tasked with ensuring that we stay ethical,and create a thriving business. 

This has paid off – more minds considering a question from a range of angles usually leads to a better and fairer decision. It also forces me and the rest of the leadership team to think about whether we could justify our decisions if asked to.

What this means in practice

Weighing up what is right and fair when making decisions about our work has been a frequent occurrence during the Covid-19 crisis.  For example, we have had to balance our need to continue to collect monthly guardian fees with understanding that some of our residents have been thrown into a precarious financial situation and seen their mental health suffer. Our response has been to work out payment plans which are manageable for individuals rather than immediately resorting to aggressive debt collection.

We have also gone beyond government requirements to minimise infection risk.  Where we had to carry out face-to-face work to manage other health and safety issues, we have tried hard to do so in ways that were within the comfort zone of our team, our contractors and our guardians.  

Strengthening our ethical approach for the future

Part of prioritising ethics is keeping an eye on where systems and culture could be strengthened even further.  There is always more that every organisation can do to be actively anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, so the work is never finished.  

As we grow and develop, we will continue to learn from best practice elsewhere, refreshing our own approaches, and sharing what we learn with others.

To find out more about our purpose and values, you can read about our mission or contact us at hello@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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