Thursday 5 September 2013

Ethical behaviour comes with integrity

I've been thinking about business ethics in advance of a session I'm facilitating on 2nd October on 'Business values and ethics' near Perth for the Scottish Institute of Business Leaders (still places left I believe).

I wondered about waiting to share this blog until after that session. Instead I share it now and would love to hear your thoughts so that they may inform, and provide additional insight, for the session next month.

Everyone has a belief about what ethical behaviour looks like in business. It's doing this or its not doing that. I'm sure, even if as a group we started with very different opinions, we could, after some debate, identify a short list of what ethical behaviour is in business. 

The challenge is can we organisationally and personally live up to those ideals?

Our values are what determine our individual actions. That is they determine what we do, what we won't do and the choices we make. As we have a number of values the hierarchy of these will also impact our behaviours.

For example - if you have values of achievement and connection the order of these would impact the decision you make - ie whether you stay at work till 20:00 to finish a piece of work or go home to read the kids a story instead. If you also have security as a value then the decision may be different. A higher priority to having your need for security met allowing you to stay at work even if at the expense of not connecting with the kids. (I'm obviously making huge assumptions about what achievement, connection and security looks like. After all achievement might be having happy kids and nothing to do with success at work - but that's another blog.)

Maintaining ethical behaviour, whether personally or organisationally, therefore, requires a value of integrity to be top of the list. Otherwise other values may mean we end up supporting unethical behaviour and may even do it ourselves. 

Ethical behaviour means saying "no" when asked to do something we know to be wrong. Ethical behaviour might even mean leaving a job or leaving a relationship because we know what we're being asked to do is wrong. The issue is we don't - we justify our support of unethical behaviour as acceptable because, to us, the consequences are too high.
  • I can't say no to my boss because I might lose my job
  • I can't make the right decision because it will impact my bonus
  • I can't do that because I may lose my house
  • I can't whistle blow I might be thrown out of my country
In other words if I stand up for what I know to be right the situation will be worse for me and at a level that I'm not prepared to accept.

Unfortunately unless we're prepared to live with the consequences above then we'll all continue to make some decisions that support unethical behaviours! Yes seriously. 

The problem is I'm sure any political, economic, social, or environmental crisis has the seeds in the same quandary. People making decisions that ensured they weren't personally negatively impacted by the decisions being made. 

I've said no in the past that had the potential to put my house and living on the line - it wasn't because it was practically easier for me than anyone else it was because I have a value of integrity higher up my list of values than security or many other values that might have me say "yes". It not right or wrong - it just is. 

don't know the answer - I'm not sure there is one. 

Although the belief I have is unless we each choose integrity as our highest value nothing is going to change. However, with my values hierarchy, of course that would be my solution :-) - what's yours? 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

I realise I need to return to my blog on Maslow's hierarchy of needs to see how that informs this topic. There's also a blog on why I don't think business values exist that will provide input and I concede that sometimes decisions are being made without our knowledge

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alison, thank you for raising this one - it is an interesting and thorny issue. I completely agree with you that unless integrity is at the top of your hierarchy, the potential lies in wait - I say potential, because it is only that until someone makes a call that compromises them. Maslow's hierarchy strongly influences this, as you intimate, since it affects how readily an individual is able to act on their integrity; as an example, I have a friend who is not encumbered by a mortgage and has no children, so he is able to act with almost no regard for security, and consequently is able to put integrity right at the top, and nothing need compromise that; others may not be so lucky!
    In the procurement space, the potential for compromise is SO huge it is actually quite alarming, and my personal view is that integrity and probity go hand-in-glove in this industry; unless you can be completely honest, you are compromised.
    Just my 2 pence (or five cents here in Australia!) worth, and thanks again for raising it - I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your upcoming session.
    Best regards,