It Might Be Legal, but It's Unethical
by Rick Brenner
Now that CEOs will be held personally accountable for statements they make about their organizations, we can all expect to be held to higher standards of professional ethics. Some professions have formal codes of ethics, but most don't. What ethical principles guide you?
With the non-controversial topics out of the way, they moved on to what they all knew was the most difficult issue. Everyone felt the tension, though perhaps no one felt the pressure Trish did. She knew that whatever they announced publicly would affect the share price, and the critical factor would be her estimate of the delay on Metronome. Everyone in the room would feel the pain.
"On to Metronome," Jack pronounced. "Trish?"
A rabbit late for a
very important date
Here we go, she thought. The dates were bad news, but the estimates were Peter's, and Peter was the best. The dates were right. "As you all know, the news isn't good. The estimates are June 30th, best case, but possibly as late as November."
Silence. Warfield, as usual, spoke first. "That's unacceptable. What are your plans for replacing Peter?"
"I have no plans for replacing Peter, or anyone else," Trish replied. "They've all done a marvelous job with what we gave them, and it's up to us now to manage this."
In some organizations, Trish's recommendation is unusual. Rather than blaming someone for an organizational failure, Trish believes that the company must tell the public the hard truth. What would you have done?
Now that CEO's will be personally accountable for statements they make about their organizations, we can all expect to be held to higher standards of professional ethics. Some professions have codes of ethics, but most of us don't even have professional associations we could join, let alone formal codes of ethics to guide us.
When you doubt the propriety of an action or decision, what principles guide you? Whether or not you can turn to an association for ethical guidance, writing down a code of ethics for your job can help. Try it. Here are some principles to get you started.
need not be proactive.
In some situations,
can be unethical.
- Beware personal benefits
- If you would personally benefit from an action you're about to take, it could be questionable. Examine such actions carefully.
- Appearance counts
- The appearance of unethical behavior is as damaging as actual unethical behavior. Avoid even the appearance of crossing the line.
- What you don't do can be damning
- Unethical behavior need not be proactive. In some situations, doing nothing can be unethical.
- Be open about key phrases
- If you intentionally use a key phrase, explain its significance to the listener. Relying on listeners to grasp the importance of innocent-sounding words could be a way of misleading people.
- Consulting an attorney can be a red flag
- Legal standards are usually less restrictive than ethical standards. Excessive concern with the legalities of your actions might mean that you're in danger of ethical transgression.
Start a discussion of ethics in your organization. Being open about the issue is a critical first step. Top Next Issue
See "On the Appearance of Impropriety," Point Lookout for December 2, 2009 for a bit more on the appearance of impropriety.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- Email Ethics
- Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil the society. And so it is with email.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part I
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. When we encounter individuals who try to extract that information, we're better able to protect it if we know their techniques.
- Difficult Decisions
- Some decisions are difficult because they trigger us emotionally. They involve conflicts of interest, yielding to undesirable realities, or possibly pain and suffering for the deciders or for others. How can we make these emotionally difficult decisions with greater clarity and better outcomes?
- Extrasensory Deception: Part I
- Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
- Some Truths About Lies: Part IV
- Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception. Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Creating Toxic Conflict: Part II
- Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job. Available here and by RSS on April 8.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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