Individuals decide their own personal values and morals from which they evolve a basic model of ethics for their interactions with others, writes M Alagappan.
After failures of the magnitude of Enron and WorldCom, there is an increased need for leaders to adhere to a code of ethics.
When a leader adheres to the highest standards of ethics, it puts lesser pressure on colleagues, teammates and contemporaries to break the agreed code of ethics. Secondly, adhering to the agreed code of ethics keeps the best interests of various stakeholders in perspective.
However, ethics is a sub branch of philosophy, and is further subdivided into theoretical, normative and applied ethics. Personal ethics is just a part of the whole. So where does one start?
Fig 1. 4 Steps to simple personal code of ethics
Here is a model to evolve a simple, practical and personalised 3-step code of ethics for individuals.
Ethics, by the dictionary definition is the philosophical study of moral values and rules. It tries to define a pattern of behavior that is either desirable or undesirable, and outcomes that are either right or wrong.
But as is the case with any human interpretation, ethics means different things to different people.
To some extent, ethical behavior of individuals is directly influenced by the context of the decision - for example, the inclination to take the shorter path to long-term goals. An individual's family, community and neighborhood determine ethical conduct to a large extent since they set initial expectations in her formative years. These early impressions influence how each person responds to different challenging circumstances in personal and professional work life later on.
When one grows up, it is common knowledge that ethical standards are under highest threat when the outcome of a decision has a disproportionately high impact on the individual's chance of success. It is also generally accepted that response to such critical stimulus in life determines the way that individual's life progresses.
Fig 2. A practical 3-point personal ethical statement
|What do ethics mean to me?|
| ||ethics means the application of morals to practical, everyday life|
|What are my ethical values?|
|What is my code of ethics?|
| ||I will treat people with dignity and respect. |
But things other than isolated, important or crucial incidents also determine issues of ethics. First, such events may or may not occur in an individual's life frequently, and second, it would be erroneous to judge a person on the basis of responses to singular events.
Ethical standards also get diluted when they are violated in transactions that have relatively lower impact potential. While these innocuous events look as if they are isolated and unconnected, they indicate a pattern of behavior that will be consistent across her life.
In addition, the ethicality of a decision should be weighed against the context of the issue at hand. An argument that may be construed as being ethical in one context may not hold well in another context.
|Ethical standards are diluted when they are violated in transactions that have relatively lower impact.|
Therefore, individuals have to think about their personal values and morals, from which they can evolve a basic model or code of ethics for their interactions with others in their circle of influence.
The table presented in figure 2 can be a good indicative statement.
The model that is discussed in figure 1 is based on the time-tested concept of observation, analysis and action. The observation phase consists firstly of becoming self aware about one's actions and the intended and actual outcome of those actions. Secondly, it is important to observe how these outcomes affect others and what the effective results of those actions are.
The analysis phase consists of understanding the underlying values that drive the actions and behavior that one presents to the outside world. The values will also indicate the motivations that individuals have in all transactions. By aligning these values to the accepted ethical standards, one can begin making significant changes in his ethical framework.
The next step obviously to start exhibiting these aligned values, and motivate others to act on their value systems. With progress, one can also start sharing the value system actively with her peers.
The fourth step in the cycle is to induce others to observe and analyze one's behavior and listen actively to constructive feedback. This step also acts as indirect motivation to others again. If the act part of the 4 step process works well, the feedback would be apparent as colleagues would start responding either positively or otherwise to the changes that a leader exhibits.
The author is a practicing ERP implementation engineer.