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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Ethics and Decision Making


Ethical Approaches to Decision Making

BY MARK S. PUTNAM

Some days an ethical decision in business can hit from all sides. A client threatens to move the account if you don't ignore some annoying protocol. You missed a little detail in a contract that will cost the company money. Your lunch went a half an hour over and your boss wonders why. Legal conflicts of interest may crop up, such as a supplier sending NBA tickets in the mail as a thank you gift. Every ethical decision in business seems to have its own set of unique variables that you haven't thought of before. 

Think about the full spectrum of making ethical decisions in the workplace and the range of corresponding responses. When you boil them down, are they really all that different from one another? Are they all that complex? The best way to understand complex issues and legal conflicts of interest is to break them down into smaller pieces. Let's take a look at an ethical decision-making model which can be referred to as “The anatomy of making ethical decisions” and its five major components. You can use these five steps at your ethical decision making model. Of course there are many e thical approaches to decision making so you need to decide which ethical decision making model is right for your situation. Consider these ethical approaches to decision making:

Understanding the scope of the problem:

Ethical decisions are not made in a vacuum. There's no such thing as a perfect crime. The workplace is an incredibly interconnected place where even the smallest ethical decision by one person can have a ripple effect across an entire organization – especially examples of conflicts of interest. Every decision you make eventually crosses someone's path somehow. Even innocent bystanders are dragged into a crisis because they must choose to report it or not.

Collecting information from many sources:

Knowledge is power. When in a tough ethical decision in business comes, the temptation is to make something up. Information is the key to stopping unethical decisions in their tracks. What does the company manual say? What are the standard operating procedures? What regulations are involved? What are others doing? Are there unwritten codes or guidelines at play? Consider the legal conflicts of interest that arise and don't overlook any examples of conflicts of interest that come up. What past examples of conflicts of interest can you use to help?

Studying information:

Whether you have a week or a few seconds to consider the do's, don'ts, and why's, cut through the fluff and get to the facts and moral/ethical principles. This is what an ethical decision making model can do for you. Put it through a thorough a set of common ethical approaches to decision making. On one hand, don't read into it things that aren't there, but on the other hand understand the spirit and principles behind making ethical decisions. As you piece together your ethical decision in business, make sure your reasoning can withstand outside criticism and you've considered all the ethical approaches to decision making.

Analyzing outcomes:

If making ethical decisions were only about knowledge then rulebooks would achieve total compliance. The key question is, " Now that you have information, what will you do with it? " This critical point is where common sense, good judgment, and ethical decision making model kick in to make the final push for a decision. Most ethical decisions in business aren't a matter of rocket science. Maybe the answers are sitting in your lap but you fail to see them. Solutions may be as close as a generous dose of common sense and a reality-check.

Making a choice:

There's no avoiding the fact that you must make an ethical decision in business yourself. Choosing not to choose is, in fact, a choice. With choice comes the responsibility to stand behind it. Your ability to stand behind an unpopular choice or legal conflict of interest that you feel is ethically justified requires courage and character. This awkward situation is guaranteed to happen to those who live by principle. Likewise, acknowledging a wrong choice and accepting responsibility takes great courage and humility.

Even if we are not able to control the ethics of others, we can certainly control our response. Knowing that mostbusiness ethics decisions are made up of these five major components and that we have an ethical decision making model in place keeps us from being caught off guard. The workplace provides no shortage of new business ethics decisions and examples of conflicts of interest to keep you on your toes. By understanding the anatomy of what's going on under the surface, you will better understand the dilemma at hand and know assuredly what you're made of.


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