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Ingalls Shipbuilding covers 800 acres at the Port of Pascagoula and and has more than 11,000 workers, making it the largest private employer in the state.

OP-ED: Huntington Ingalls Industries’ ethics philosophy: Always do the right thing

By Mike Petters

At Huntington Ingalls Industries, our ethics philosophy is simple: Always do the right thing. Even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is looking.

At HII, every decision we make—no matter how small—is guided by our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct and by our Company Values: Integrity, Safety, Honesty, Engagement, Responsibility and Performance. These values are the foundation of our ethical culture—a culture that inspires us to do the right thing each and every day.

That doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect. It means we’re doing everything we can to ensure our safety and the quality of our products and services. With regard to cost and schedule, it means being honest and admitting when we don’t meet a goal. I can forgive somebody for missing a deadline. But I can’t find a way to forgive somebody for lying or cutting a corner related to safety.

I’m often asked: “What’s the one thing that keeps you awake at night?” The answer is: the possibility that somebody someday somewhere in our organization is going to try to cut a corner. If they feel pressured to take a shortcut and have the opportunity to do so, they will actually come up with some sort of rationalization for why they want to do it.

We’ve got more than 37,000 employees in 42 states—including 11,000 at our Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Mississippi—and they’re all the best in the world at what they do. But our expertise alone is not sufficient for us to be successful. Our customers are counting on us to do it the right way, and our shareholders are counting us to do it the right way.

That is what keeps me up at night, and that is why we spend so much time on ethics and business conduct.

In addition to annual ethics training and periodic communications for all employees, work teams across the HII enterprise are encouraged to start their meetings with a safety moment and an ethics moment. This is also true for my staff meetings. In fact, while the senior executive team’s ethics “moments” are usually scheduled to last 15 minutes, they occasionally go for as long as an hour.

This “tone at the top” exemplifies for other leaders throughout the company the importance of making ethics a part of their normal interactions with their teams and emphasizing how important it is for all of us all to do things the right way.

After all, our job as leaders is to create a climate where it’s not only safe but expected that somebody would stand up and say, “This is wrong.” It’s a lot easier to do that in an organization where everybody knows we value the right way.

Given its prevalence in the news these days, it is also worth noting that HII has a policy of zero tolerance for all types of harassment—including sexual harassment. We are committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment free from threats of violence, harassment, discrimination and bullying.

A final thought: While the foundation of our ethics program is doing the right thing when no one is looking, we also pride ourselves on doing the right thing when everyone is looking—like we did in 2016 when joined other businesses in opposing Mississippi’s religious freedom law. This was a case where we felt strongly that businesses had a responsibility to lead the way.

We don’t plan to take a public stance on every issue under the sun, but if and when there is an issue that affects our business, you can always count on HII to do the right thing.

» MIKE PETTERS is president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, America’s largest military shipbuilding company and a provider of professional services to partners in government and industry. Petters also discusses ethics in the “HII Talking Points” podcast, available here: http://www.huntingtoningalls.com/hii-talking-points/.

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