Guidelines for acting ethically

About the Skill:

Making ethical choices can often be difficult for managers. Obeying the law is mandatory, but acting ethically goes beyond mere compliance with the law. It means acting responsibly in those gray areas, where right and wrong are not defined. What can you do to enhance your managerial abilities in acting ethically? We offer guidelines.

Steps in Practicing the Skill:

1) Know your organization’s policy on ethics: Company policies on ethics, if they exist, describe what the organization perceives as ethical behavior and what it expects you to do. This policy will help you to clarify what is permissible and the managerial discretion you will have. It becomes your code of ethics.
2) Understand the ethics policy: Just having the policy in your hand does guarantee that it will achieve what it is intended to do. You need to fully understand it. Behaving ethically is rarely a cut and dried process, but the policy can act as a guideline and provide a basis from which you act within the organization. Even if a policy does not exist, you can still several steps before you deal with the difficult situation.
3) Think before you act: Ask yourself, Why am I going to do what I’m about to do? What led up to the problem? What is my true intention in taking this action? Is my reason valid? Or are there ulterior motives behind it such as demonstrating organizational loyalty? Will my action injure someone? Would I disclose to my boss or my family what I’m going to do? Remember, it’s your behavior and your actions. You need to make sure that you are not doing something that will jeopardize your role.
4) Ask yourself what if questions: If you are thinking about why you are going to do something, you should also be asking yourself what if questions. For example, the following questions may help you shape your actions: What if I make the wrong decision? What will happen to me? To my job? What if my actions were described, in detail on the local TV news show or in the newspaper? Would it bother or embarrass me or those around me? What if I get caught doing something unethical? Am I prepared to deal with the consequence?
5) Seek opinions from others: If it is something major that you must do, and about which you are uncertain, ask for advice from other managers. Maybe they have been in a similar situation and can give you the benefit of their experience. Or maybe they can just listen and act as a sounding board for you.
6) Do what you truly believe is right: You have a conscience, and you are responsible for your behavior. Whatever you do, if you truly believe it was the right action to take, then what others say or what the Monday morning quarter backs say is immaterial. You need to be true to your own internal ethical standards. Ask yourself, Can I live with what I’ve done?

Practicing the Skill:

Find a copy of your school’s code of conduct or the code of ethics of any organization to which you belong. Or obtain a copy of the code of ethics for a professional organization you hope to join after graduating. Evaluate the code’s provisions and policies. Are you uncomfortable with any of the code’s provisions? Why? Is any part of the code routinely violated? Why do you think these violations are happening? What are the usual consequences of such violations? Do you think these consequences are appropriate?

If you had trouble obtaining the code of conduct, find out why. Under what circumstances is it normally distributed, posted, or otherwise made available to members?