The Ethics of Excellence

By Alexandra S. Jackiw, CPM®, CAPS, C3P

To be a truly excellent, well-respected company, our integrity as an organization must be beyond reproach.  How can we achieve that?  OUR COMPANY CAN NEVER BE SOMETHING THAT OUR PEOPLE ARE NOT.  Every one of us must be responsible for acting ethically – with fairness, objectivity, honesty, integrity, loyalty, and trust – AND within the context of what’s legal and moral.

Every day each of us faces tough choices at work.  We must make decisions that affect how we do our jobs and those decisions also impact many other people.  Not every issue is clear-cut.  Sure, some answers will be black or white, but ethical questions can, and do, come in many shades of gray.  Having a framework or guideline to use when making choices can help us choose wisely and stay on track ethically.  When you’re faced with a difficult decision, ask yourself the following five questions to make certain that you’re keeping ethics in the forefront of your decision-making.

  1. IS IT LEGAL?  Beyond just the legality, does your company have a specific policy in place that addresses the situation?
  2. WHO IS AFFECTED BY YOUR DECISION AND HOW?  Carefully identify all parties that have an interest in the outcome of your decision.  How will they be affected?  Will anyone be hurt?  Who will benefit?  Is the decision fair?  Can you discuss it with everyone involved?  Would you choose a different solution if it were your parent or your child?  If someone else were making the decision and you would be the one affected, would you want that person to do the same thing?  Could your decision affect the trust of your co-workers, residents, vendors, clients, or business colleagues?  Could your company’s or your property’s reputation be at stake?
  3. WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISION?  What seems reasonable in the short-term could ultimately cause more harm than good.  Consider your decision within the big picture.  What are the likely effects a year from now?  If you’re tempted to take an unethical or questionable short cut, maybe you’re being pressured to decide too quickly.  Would you make the same decision if you had more time to decide?
  4. HOW WILL YOUR DECISION MAKE YOU FEEL?  The fact that you’re having doubts about the ethics of a decision can point to trouble.  How will others view your decision?  Would you choose differently if your decision were going to be reported on the local evening news?  Could your motives be misunderstood or misinterpreted?  If your competition acted this way, how would you react?  Could you tell someone you respect about your decision?  Would you feel comfortable telling your boss?  Could you tell your family?  Would you want your child to make the same decision?  Bottom line… can you live with your decision?
  5. HAVE YOU EXAMINED ALL OF THE ALTERNATIVES?  Have you considered all the options available to you?  Has the situation ever come up before?  If so, how was it handled?  Was that decision a good one?  How is your current situation similar or different?  What factors are different?  What would be the impact for you, your property, and your company if your decision were repeated many times?  What if everyone did it?

When you’re faced with a difficult decision, don’t make your choices privately, in a vacuum.  Ask for opinions from people that you respect for their honesty and integrity.  Never feel like you need to shoulder the entire burden by yourself.  Try to get a variety of viewpoints – not just from people that you know will agree with you.  This way, you’ll be aware of consequences that may not have occurred to you.  When you’re involved emotionally, it can also affect your judgment.  Sometimes an impartial observer can add clarity if you’re caught up in an ethical conflict.

Using this decision-making framework should help you live and work with integrity.  Each of us must take responsibility for acting ethically and making the best choices.  Achieving the ethics of excellence at our organizations is our individual assignment.  The buck stops with us.