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"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“I can’t” is not an ethical response.

July 31, 2012 by TWICEO

“I can’t. The rules, code, etc. don’t permit it.” This is a response that reflects people knowing their organizational policies and being reluctant to contravene them. Sounds good, but, actually, it is a discouraging statement when you parse it. It reflects choices made by a concern for some form of negative consequence. Refraining from a wrong action due to such concern is not the same thing as freely choosing an action. Refraining from wrong is not the same thing as choosing right. Ultimately, choices made under duress, in any form, are not really ethical choices.

For many compliance/ethics officers, the bottom line of their compliance program is the successful enforcement of conformity to prescribed, mandated, behaviors. Success means people following the rules—doing what is legally expected. Compliance for conformity may be an effective, legally-focused, model for minimizing liability. However, it is not the foundation for building an ethical culture—a culture of integrity--in an organization. A culture of integrity views rules and codes as necessary, but not sufficient. A culture of integrity exists where people are empowered and equipped to say “I won’t, because it’s not the right thing to do.”

Ethics and Compliance Programs Undermine Integrity

June 12, 2012 by TWICEO

Increasingly in organizations, the use of the term “integrity” has come to refer to the degree to which individuals refrain from misconduct or corruption. In other words “integrity” is about refraining from making poor decisions, rather than choosing to make good decisions.

This is reflected, for example, in a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that identifies a significant shift in perspective on ethical responsibility from “viewing misconduct as a reflection of the morals of the individual officer” to that of a reliance on administrative responsibility to “enhance integrity,” with a subsequent focus on the “individual officers’ interpretation of agency rules.”

This shift now exists in most organizations. Ethics and compliance programs end up reinforcing that integrity is a function of administrative thoroughness and clarity of expectation of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The result is that individual integrity is defined by adherence to written policy with the erosion of an expectation for individual, personal responsibility and accountability for professional ethical decisions. Ethical decisions are made less by what is the right action to do or choice to make, and more by which policy applies or does not apply. The mindset becomes, “I can’t because the policy says…” or “I can because there is not policy…”

An outcome of this shift is the current dominant approach to ethics training that emphasizes an adherence to policy and procedure, to compliance, reflecting a concern for more legalistic and liability-based priorities. This approach has been dominated by training programs and curricula developed by the legal community and trainers focused on legal accountability. This approach does not provide the necessary knowledge and tools essential to ingrain ethics and integrity in personnel by empowering employees to make, with confidence--and with the confidence of their supervisors--the individual ethical choices that are a part of building cultures of integrity in organizations.

The outcome of ethics training must empower individuals, at all levels of the organization, with the skills and tools for making right choices. When people have the tools to make right decisions, they will make right decisions. Then, the mindset will be, “I won’t because it’s not the right thing to do.”

Another ethics blog?

June 4, 2012 by TWICEO

Yes. Another ethics blog; an ethics blog that will focus on people and relationships.  Here is why: One evening I was talking on the phone to one of the TWI Board members about the ethics training we are developing at TWI.  At one point he commented that, to him and to most people, ethics is "static."  By this he meant that ethics reflects "what is" or "what should be."  But we believe ethics can be more. Ethics is also be about what "could be."  By this I mean ethics can be a means to transform our own lives and our personal and professional relationships into what is the most positive and empowering vision of our purpose and potential.  We can do this if we are given two primary essentials: 1) the ethical self-awareness that connects with the ethical essence within each of us, and, 2) appropriate ethical decision making tools.

The basic premise of this approach is that ethics is ultimately about people and relationships, and taking personal responsibility for the choices we make. Every ethical theory boils down to that summary statement.  The difference lies in how we view people and relationships, how we prioritize the personal values that underlie our ethical perspectives and reasoning, and how aware we are of the ideologies, emotions, and other aspects of ourselves that influence us.

In the coming weeks we will reflect on many topics: ethical decision making; what we call Transformative ethics and contrast it with conformative ethics; ethics training; social media; comment on ethical issues that arise; and explore the impact of certain popular ideologies that currently impact public discourse and affect ethical choices we face as a society.

A final thought in line with the ideas above: I hate the statement, "It's nothing personal, it's only business." Any decision that effects an individual is "personal." We either lift people up or push them down by the decisions we make. We either take people and relationships into consideration,or we don't.  That is always a choice to be made.   To say, "Its nothing personal, its only business," is a reflection of ethical laziness that pushes people down. It is a shirking of personal responsibility for a personal decision.  Have the ethical presence, as well as the self-respect and respect for others, to be responsible for decisions made.

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