Monday, October 29, 2012

Everyone Does It?

Recently, I heard about a company at which a sales guy tried finagling a sale by offering a discount and automatic return. He'd get his sales commission and qualify for a bonus. The customer wouldn't have spent any money. When the manager found out, the sales guy was fired. And so was the whistle-blower.

When the whistle-blower sued, then the executives and board found out about the sales scheme. Well, actually one executive already knew about it, but hadn't told anyone else.

The company had an ethics policy and an open door policy. They hadn't hired an ombudsman per their own policy. Nor had they conducted any training; this was deemed lower priority.

Maybe they saved some money. There are studies that indicate ethical behavior increases after situation specific training. Compliance is still pretty low. (Ethics goes beyond legal compliance and considers a person's or company's values and worldview as to what is considered good.) If the training is merely going through the policy, it probably will not change the ingrained behaviors and attitudes. If the culture still promotes, encourages and rewards actions that create monetary success, but are unethical, then the behavior will not change.

This was the heart of the recommendation for the company above. They need to bring in some outside people to do the ethics training. Often it's the outside perspective that sheds light on "accepted" practices ("because we're all doing it, doesn't that mean it's the policy and not wrong?"). If your only standard is your own behavior, you are entirely ethical in your own mind--probably because you've rationalized your decisions even when they violate one of your expressed values. (If you consistently violate a value, then you really have a different value.) Your behavior certainly would be questioned by others who  wouldn't have the same perspective. Others would ask about the purpose (the why) behind some of your decisions and actions. "We've always done it this way" is not an acceptable answer to an outsider, but it is often the spoken and unspoken answer to internal inquiries.

If you want to put some spice into your ethics training, get another perspective. Ask an outsider to conduct the training.

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