- Ethics is a set of principles of right conduct.
- Ethics is a system of moral values.
Acting ethically often amounts to being able to make the correct decision or choose the right course of action when faced with a number of conflicting alternatives. An ethical decision must be clear and justifiable given the situation and the facts on hand.
In general terms, many personal ethical dilemmas can be solved by breaking down the problem into its components. This is done by asking a number of ethical questions to put the decision which must be made into perspective so that it can be considered objectively. Some of these questions are generic and are listed below as guidelines.
There will be times when these guidelines do not address the specifics of a situation.
The following is a step-by-step approach that may help you in working through a problem of business ethics:
1. Analyse the situation
- How did the situation occur?
- What must be decided?
- Who is authorised to make the decision – you or someone else?
- What would the implications of the decision be?
- What written instructions and rules should be consulted?
- Does an existing procedure or policy throw light on the situation?
- Who should be consulted?
- What are the ethical alternatives and rationale for each?
If any of the choices requires that an ethical principle is compromised, evaluate the facts and assumptions carefully. Is there room for a compromise that would not violate your firm’s standards of integrity? Additionally, would another employee agree with your ethical judgment?
2. Consider the possible outcomes
- Which outcome would be ethically preferable?
- Who would be hurt and/or who could be helped by the decision?
- To what extent could the persons affected be hurt? How might they be helped?
- What alternatives would be ethically permitted?
- Of the choices identified, select the outcome that is most aligned with your firm’s values, and strongly preserve the rights of those involved.
3. Ask the following questions
- Would I be proud to tell my family about my actions or have them made public?
- If I were on the other side of the table, would I consider it fair?
- Will my decision involve the contravention of a law or guideline?
- Is the action legal?
- Does it comply with our IMC values and code of conduct?
- If you do it, will you feel bad?
- How will it look in the newspaper?
If you know it is wrong, don’t do it!
If you’re not sure, ask.
Keep asking until you get an answer.