On the straight and nar­row

There is a method to mak­ing eth­i­cal de­ci­sions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

AS you’ve likely no­ticed, in­fa­mous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can’t stay out of the news, but at least the lat­est mes­sage was he had been “cleared” of al­legedly smok­ing crack co­caine. How­ever, with an­other on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the may­oralty cam­paign heat­ing up, the story of Rob Ford is far from over.

In fact, while Ford may be tak­ing com­fort from this lat­est an­nounce­ment, I would sug­gest he still has a lot to do to clean up his im­age. That’s be­cause his per­sonal and pro­fes­sional be­hav­iour over the past year has once more brought to light the im­por­tance of ethics in the workplace.

How­ever, what are ethics and why is this is­sue im­por­tant? Good ethics means sen­si­tively and fairly serv­ing and bal­anc­ing the best in­ter­ests of one’s busi­ness, the clients and the pub­lic. Ethics are based on re­spon­si­bil­ity, hon­esty, in­tegrity, cour­tesy and a will­ing­ness to com­ply with the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards.

The gen­eral pub­lic, vot­ers and busi­ness clients alike are be­com­ing in­tol­er­ant of all per­sonal, busi­ness and/ or po­lit­i­cal scan­dals. Af­ter all, people want to deal with in­di­vid­u­als who are cred­i­ble and who con­sis­tently fos­ter trust and re­spect.

As a re­sult, or­ga­ni­za­tions have been scram­bling to de­velop a code of ethics, en­sure ef­fec­tive poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, and ag­gres­sively train their em­ploy­ees. How­ever, in spite of all these ef­forts, breaches of ethics con­tinue. Why does this hap­pen?

Just ask Chuck Gal­lagher, a for­mer U.S. ac­coun­tant, cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive and con­victed felon who spent 18 months in prison, fol­lowed by three years’ pro­ba­tion, for em­bez­zling money from his clients’ trust funds. Gal­lagher also lost his wife and fam­ily, his pro­fes­sional li­cence and his first ca­reer. How­ever, he re­bounded and to­day is a pro­fes­sional speaker and con­sul­tant on ethics and fraud.

Gal­lagher talks about his mo­ment of weak­ness and how one sim­ple choice cre­ated a pat­tern of cor­rup­tion. He ad­mits his main con­cern at the time was main­tain­ing a pro­fes­sional and com­mu­nity im­age of wealth and suc­cess. This was his iden­tity; how he judged him­self and how he thought oth­ers judged him. It was his choice to re­sort to theft to main­tain this iden­tity that even­tu­ally led to his down­fall.

Yet most eth­i­cal be­hav­iour isn’t all that ex­treme. It can in­clude sim­ple choices, such as steal­ing the restau­rant tip left on the ta­ble or say­ing things that aren’t true. It can in­clude giv­ing and/or al­low­ing false im­pres­sions, hid­ing or di­vulging in­for­ma­tion, tak­ing un­fair ad­van­tage or tak­ing some­one’s in­tel­lec­tual property and call­ing it your own. My bet is if you look around, you’ll quickly find your own ex­am­ples.

As Gal­lagher found in his own sit­u­a­tion, part of the prob­lem is that people ra­tio­nal­ize their be­hav­iour. They make up ex­cuses that al­low them to be­lieve what they are do­ing is OK. They may con­vince them­selves they’re “fight­ing fire with fire,” or use the ex­cuse that they aren’t hurt­ing any­one. In an­other ex­am­ple, a per­son may steal money be­cause he per­ceives it is “owed” to him.

Yet, as we sug­gested ear­lier, cit­i­zens, stake­hold­ers, ven­dors and cus­tomers are crav­ing eth­i­cal and so­cially re­spon­si­ble prac­tices. Em­ploy­ees also want to be part of an or­ga­ni­za­tion where fair play and re­spect for the law are as im­por­tant as mak­ing a profit. If that’s the case, we have to do a bet­ter job of man­ag­ing the is­sue of ethics in the workplace.

This is not easy. In­stead, the is­sue of ethics is very com­plex and grow­ing more so ev­ery day. In my view, it doesn’t mat­ter how many poli­cies and pro­ce­dures you have or the num­ber of train­ing ses­sions you’ve at­tended, ethics are per­sonal. In other words, the only be­hav­iour you can con­trol is your own. You are the one who makes the choices.

Each of us has needs, each of us has op­por­tu­ni­ties and each of us has the choice to act. Rarely is some­one forced or pushed. People make choices based on their val­ues and ethics.

At the same time, choices are com­pli­cated by is­sues such as iden­tity. In Gal­lagher’s case, he be­lieved his per­sonal iden­tity was built around the per­cep­tions of wealth and pres­tige. This com­pelled him to steal in or­der to keep up the pre­text. And, as with many oth­ers who en­gage in un­eth­i­cal con­duct, his rep­u­ta­tion and ca­reer were de­stroyed.

While Gal­lagher has be­come a well-re­spected speaker on ethics and fraud, the chal­lenge for all of us is to avoid fol­low­ing in his ini­tial foot­steps. The best way to do this is to fol­low a sim­plis­tic model such as that de­vel­oped by the U.S.-based Joseph­son In­sti­tute. Their seven-step path — along with my own com­ments — is as fol­lows: 1. Stop and think — The say­ing “Think be­fore you talk” is also very ap­pli­ca­ble to de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Do not rush to judg­ment; in­stead, fol­low tried-and-true steps to good de­ci­sion-mak­ing. 2. Clar­ify your goals — De­ter­mine what your goal is and what de­ci­sion must be made. Be sure to con­sider that all de­ci­sions must re­flect a con­cern for all the af­fected in­di­vid­u­als and/or stake­hold­ers. 3. De­ter­mine the facts — Take time to eval­u­ate and dis­tin­guish facts. Ex­am­ine the cred­i­bil­ity of your sources and iden­tify any is­sues of self-in­ter­est, bias or any ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ments that might im­pact a per­son’s ob­jec­tiv­ity. 4. De­velop op­tions — Use a se­ries of brain­storm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and tools to cre­atively de­velop a set of ac­tions. Fi­nal­ize your dis­cus­sion with at least three al­ter­na­tives to ac­com­plish your goals and con­sider the ben­e­fits and the risks of a po­ten­tial choice. 5. Con­sider the con­se­quences — Re­view your po­ten­tial ac­tions and al­ter­na­tives and de­ter­mine if any will vi­o­late an eth­i­cal value. Elim­i­nate any and all ideas that are im­prac­ti­cal, il­le­gal, im­proper and/or un­eth­i­cal. 6. Make a choice — Af­ter you have iden­ti­fied, selected, re­viewed and dis­cussed your al­ter­na­tives, make a choice. Avoid pro­cras­ti­nat­ing but ask for more in­for­ma­tion if needed. Be­ing de­ci­sive is an es­sen­tial skill for ef­fec­tive lead­ers. 7. Mon­i­tor and mod­ify — Mak­ing choices re­quires mon­i­tor­ing the con­se­quences and re­sults and step­ping in to adapt the so­lu­tion as re­quired. If needed, re­assess the en­tire sit­u­a­tion and ap­ply the de­ci­sion-mak­ing model again.

As the many re­cent news ex­am­ples show, un­eth­i­cal be­hav­iour can make or break both cor­po­rate for­tunes and in­di­vid­ual ca­reers. And as we know, no mat­ter whether the down­fall is quick or long and painful, the sit­u­a­tion is usu­ally front-and-cen­tre news and de­tails can be found on the In­ter­net for years to come. The re­sult? Un­eth­i­cal lead­ers can run, but they can no longer hide.

Bar­bara J. Bowes is pres­i­dent of Legacy Bowes Group and pres­i­dent of Ca­reer Part­ners In­ter­na­tional, Man­i­toba.

She can be reached at barb@lega­cy­bowes.com.

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