Instead of establishing a protocol for how to react to when an employee makes an unethical decision, isn’t it better for an organization to develop a protocol for mitigating those decisions? It’s true that the culture-makers of an organization, like HR professionals and CEOs, typically think reactively. Policies and training programs are created to assist the policy-makers in dealing with problems not preventing them.
Yet while you invest in your organization’s culture by instilling values such as transparency and relationship-building, doesn’t it make better sense to proactively train your employees in ethical-decision making? Instilling in them two golden rules for confronting an ethical dilemma can help them and the organization as a whole.
No matter your upbringing, you were probably taught the Golden Rule in one form or another. The one I recall from my youth is: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Do you need to turn your ethics training into a philosophical debate? Certainly not.
However, this rule is great for ethical dilemmas in which your employees’ decisions will affect someone else or another organization. Teach them to ask themselves, “If I were the receiver of ‘this’ action by that person, how would I feel?” If the answer is, “Not great,” then that action might not be the best one.
As Boston University’s Jay Halfond states in an article for Huffington Post, “Ethics is about actions — not what we say, but what we do — often in the heat of the moment, in opportunities that can further our cause even at the expense of others, and vulnerable to the pressures around us.”
Halfond gets to the crux of what the Golden Rule can do for ethics training: it can help inform decision-making when our actions will impact others.
In today’s world of the internet savvy, there is a new golden rule for ethical decision-making that is a little more practical. It is also best applied when your employees are unsure if their actions will affect anyone else.
This rule is simple: would they want their actions broadcast on social media? If not, then those actions should be curtailed or changed.
Take a lesson from the Twitter disasters of many a business. Seeing the result of an ethical decision in print or shared repeatedly online has consequences not just for your employees. It also reflects on your organization’s brand.
This can be applied to decisions that we normally take for granted as members of organizations, like taking home those extra pens or putting one extra cup of coffee on the company card. Your employees may not think those impact the bottom line, but how would they feel if “social media” found out these occurred?
For many of your employees, it will be easy to appeal to their sense of personal justice when teaching the classic Golden Rule. Very few of us want people to treat us poorly. On the other hand, you are likely to have a handful of very valuable and diligent employees who couldn’t care less about how others treat them.
The Golden Rule then will not be a great tool for ethics training for these employees. Yet their own perceptions of themselves are highly important to them, and that’s a great asset for you to leverage in ethics training. Thus the New Golden Rule of public perception can be used.
Together, these two rules are great for tackling the most common ethical issues found in business today.
by H. E. James