Business Ethics Part III

In this, our third and final installment in the Business Ethics series we'll cover tools to make ethical decisions easier, and, to wrap things up, we'll examine ethical dilemmas with company policy.

Ethical decisions are so much easier to make when you're prepared and equipped with the proper tools. We have some tools that will put you in a position for ethical success.

The first tool is having a good understanding of the basic principles of ethical problem solving.

  1. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Will the affected person also think that this decision is ethical?
  2. Make sure you have all the information.
  3. Look at the problem through various principles. How can the principle of loyalty be fulfilled through this problem? How does confidentiality come into play?

If you keep these three basic principles in mind when faced with any ethical decision your chances of making the right choice will greatly improve. If you find yourself in a situation that requires expediency, then there are two tools you should consider.

  1. Ethical Priorities - Nan DeMars suggests the following three priorities to address when faced with a quick ethical decision:
    • Take care of yourself
    • Take care of your company
    • Take care of your supervisor
    • So let's say your supervisor asks you to lie about their whereabouts to someone. Make sure your needs are cover first, then take care of the company's needs, and then worry about your supervisor.
  2. The Smell Test - four questions to ask yourself when considering a solution, if the answer to any of these questions is negative then you should reconsider the solution.
    1. How could I explain this decision to my children?
    2. How would I feel if this decision were reported on the news?
    3. Can I live with this decision? Will it keep me up at night?
    4. How would my mother feel about this decision? 

When used appropriately and wisely these tools will you put on the path to ethical success. Next, we'll take a look at specific situations involving company policy.

Company Policy

Though it sounds unlikely, it is possible to be placed in a bind due to the company policy. For example, let's say that you're an insurance broker. Your company's operations manual states that you must always provide the customer with the lowest quote you have obtained. You know that the company that always offer the lowest quote has terrible customer service and has a history of denying legitimate claims. You also know that their quote does not include taxes and service fees, but both your company's policy and the insurance company's policy forbids you from telling the customer this.

Most people would think there are only two solutions: quit or live with the policy. However, there is a third option. Be a catalyst for change.

You should bring the ethical issues about the policy to the attention of your supervisor, they may not be aware of the issue. Make sure this conversation takes place in private at a good time for both of you, when you can sit down and fully discuss the issue. You'll also want to phrase your concerns in a way that doesn't blame anyone.

You might try, " I've come across a possible issue with our quoting policy that's making me a bit uncomfortable. We've agreed to always provide the lowest quote to customers, but the company that provides the lowest quote has a reputation for some unethical practices. As well, there are some hidden fees that may actually mean they're not the lowest provider."

Rember, the supervisor wants to hear solutions along side the problem, so before you meet, try to come up with some ways to resolve the dilemma. For this example, you might suggest that your company revise their policy so that you can provide several quotes to your customers. You might also request that your company meet with the insurance company in question to clarify their fee structure and to request that your company be allowed to share all information with customers.