Adhering to standards, codes of conducts, and even strategies are a daily struggle that organizations and individuals have to deal with and work through. The most important aspect to all of this is understanding that one’s resolve can and will get tested on a daily basis and like project management a primary element to this is asking what degree of variance is acceptable.
Let us take a couple of examples to explore this issue (as a disclaimer, these are not factual situations but examples to illustrate a point). Imagine that an executive is leading an organization in the tendering process for a new project with the local municipality. During the proposal review phase a message is sent to this executive that if they want to secure the business they would have to provide a cash payment to members of the review committee. This cash payment is clearly a bribe that is not only illegal but also immoral and unethical. As such, the executive decides to reject this request and assumes that the project will be lost. As it turns out, the review committee was running a sting operation with the local government to ensure compliance to the law. The organization ends up winning the contract and delivers the work. However, following execution when the invoice is submitted for payment the executive finds out that the process will take a long time and payment will be delayed. A low level employee in the municipality meets with this executive and shares that since the work has been performed to the highest degree of quality he will help the organization to collect the invoice quickly. The executive is elated and as the meeting is about to conclude, the low level employee happens to mention that his daughter has graduated college recently and is looking for a job. It so happens that her specialization is in line with the executive’s organization. He give the executive a copy of the resume with the request to consider her for a position. The executive is now torn between deciding how to deal with this issue. The executive is not sure whether helping this person’s daughter would constitute a breach in ethics or whether it is simply being nice to someone who was helpful.
It is stories such as these that we are often faced with on a daily basis where the facts may be clear but the implications are often dependent on interpretation. We are constantly having to decide how to draw the line between in a way that is consistent with our stated values and beliefs. It is easy to fight obvious corruption or illegal acts that are visible, however, the challenge is in dealing with smaller and less obvious challenges.
The best advice on this front is to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the values and a constant dialogue within the organization to help build a narrative that can support employees in acting in accordance with these values. For those readers who might come across this post, I’d like to invite you to comment on how you decide where to draw the line on these difficult ethical issues.