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#570: Use an Ethics Decision Tree

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 20, 2011
Updated: Friday, May 20, 2011
Management consultants are taking a lot of fire these days for ethics violations, a lot of which is predictably self-inflicted. Despite having a code of ethics and frequently discussing how we would treat various ethical situations, how are we supposed to make sure, or at least decrease the likelihood that, we won't go down the same dangerous paths we are seeing in the news that other consultants are going?

If consulting requires life-long learning, then consulting ethics requires something more. At a minimum, strengthening your ethics muscles benefits from regular exercise (discussing consulting and business related cases), from stretching (doing this with challenging, seemingly unsolvable ones) and from cross training (looking at ethics challenges from other industries and disciplines). This is a logical approach, but one more aspect of an ethics training regimen is frequently ignored.

This is the way you use those muscles you have worked so hard to strengthen. I recommend developing a personal checklist or decision tree when facing an ethical challenge. Rather than assuming you are "strong enough" to handle any ethics challenge, face it with the same methodical approach you would recommend a client face their own challenges. In this way, you can assure that you won't miss anything.

Various ethics organizations and companies have developed such protocols. Consider the one developed by the Austrian chemical company Borealis, in which they ask employees to apply five tests in sequence (a decision tree):
  • Courtroom test -- is your preferred action legal in all jurisdictions affected? Ask your legal counsel.
  • Values test -- is it consistent with firm values and code of conduct? - Find out from you ethics compliance officer or supervisor
  • Family test -- would you tell a friend, colleague or family member? If not, reconsider whether to proceed or not.
  • Headline test -- would you want to see this in the papers? Get feedback from others to confirm.
  • Virtue test -- forgetting all else, does it feel right? You need to be able to sleep - tonight as well as 10 years from now.
Tip: The Borealis Ethics Policy is an excellent example of a company clearly and vigorously attending to the ethical behavior of its employees and is highly recommended reading.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting tools  ethics 

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