In an idealized world, all professionals work to resolve ethical dilemmas with direct and open communication among those involved, and they seek the input of colleagues, managers, and legal counsel when necessary. The hope is that everyone incorporates ethical practices into their daily professional work and engages in ongoing professional development regarding current topics on ethical and legal issues in the field.
How do we do that?
- Awareness, Adherence, NOT Avoidance – If ethical responsibilities conflict with laws, regulations, or other governing legal authority, make known your commitment to your organization (from the plant floor to the C-Suite and the Board Room too) and take steps to resolve any conflict. If a conflict can’t be resolved in this manner, adhere to the requirements and the spirit of the law, regulation, or other governing legal authority. Don’t look for loopholes. It’s disingenuous and looks exactly like what it is to others: like you are getting around what’s right.
Expect Ethical Behavior – Expect your employees, colleagues, and managers to adhere to a stated or written Code of Ethics. If you have doubts about whether someone is acting in an ethical manner, have a clear understanding of the appropriate action. If you ask people what they should do if they suspect a breach of ethics and they don’t know, find out or create a process. Then get the word out. A process no one knows about helps no one.
- Process in Place – An informal attempt to resolve the issue makes sense as a first step, but have a clear process in place if that does not remedy the situation. Don’t stick it in a drawer or a manual once the process has been created. Review it, make it visible, and periodically review it. Bring it up for discussion and talk about potential ethical dilemmas and how they might (and should) be resolved. It bears repeating – a process no one knows about helps no one.
Resources in Place – If people are uncertain about whether a particular situation or course of action is in violation of a Code of Ethics, identify one or two (or more) people who are the appropriate go-to authorities in your organization and get the word out that they are the best resources. If it looks like there will be a conflict of interest with the organization, work toward a change within the organization to allow full adherence when possible.
Knowing how things ought to look in the idealized world is our aspiration. Understanding that there is a gap between that perfect world and the real world is practical. While hoping that people will behave ethically, the real world we live and work in is made of people who behave is a less than perfect manner, or who are not sure how best to act when an ethical dilemma is presented. Rather than hope for the best – put some things in place that help increase awareness of expectations, guidelines, and resources.
The goal is to reduce the gap between how things are and how we want them to be. Everyday ethics moves us all forward.