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Business Ethics – 5 Principles

scalesRecently I attended an Ethics for Breakfast program at which Dr. Larry Axelrod, Dean of the Vancouver Campus of the Adler School of Professional Psychology  led a discussion on ethical development.  The question was whether there were guidelines that business people could use to judge if their decisions were ethical or not.

There’s a lot of rhetoric about openness and transparency in the world of work today. Yet, we are still keeping secrets in order to deceive competitors, unions and employees, or customers arguing that this is for ‘the best interest of the organization’.

Is there an ethical justification for this deception? If so, how does this justification fit into our commitment to ensuring autonomy and informed consent among our employees and with our customers? What are the consequences of deception?

This blog presents two key concepts underlying our discussion. You are invited to add your thoughts.

What are key ethical principles?

Many participants in the session were asked for their experience (positive and negative) with each of the following:

 Principle 1: Autonomy

An ethical action is based on honouring the autonomy of the individual. At the heart of this is the concept of informed consent. Have I shared all of the information that will allow this person to make the best decision for themselves?

Principle 2: Do Good

An ethical decision is an action that does good for the individual, the community and the corporation.

Principle 3: Do no Harm

Minimally, an ethical action does not do harm to our employees, our business, our customers and our community.

Principle 4: Be Just

Ethical actions can be judged on the degree to which they are fair to all involved. In political philosophy this is the principle of distributive justice.

Principle 5: Integrity

An ethical action is one that is consistent with what one believes, one says and what one does.

What is Deception?

The definition we used was: The presentation of false information or the omission of true information with the intention to deceive.  Put simply deception is lying.

The Big Question

Reflect on your own behaviour and the actions of staff around you including your CEO from the perspective of ethics and deception. Have you ever deceived someone? Below are two examples that each of us might have faced and where there is pressure to deceive.

How does what I am wearing look to you? Often we deceive because we “don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings”. Most often the reality is that we don’t want to deal with the consequences of telling the truth or we don’t know how to speak the truth in a supportive way. Ever happen to you?

Your superior asks if you have completed a task you were assigned and you have not. You say you have, believing that you can complete it over the weekend. Let’s be honest, you lied. Your supervisor finds out you have lied (maybe we call it a little white lie). What is the consequence to your relationship? Will your supervisor even tell you they found out?

Every day we are confronted with little situations where being deceptive is the easy path. Over time these little deceptions undermine our credibility with customers, fellow employees and senior managers.

A quote from David Horsager: “You will never get one big chance to be trusted in your life, only millions of small ones.”

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