A Matter of Ethics

Filed in MUNICIPALITY by on April 29, 2015

A boy came home from school one afternoon and announced that his teacher wanted everyone to write an essay on ethics. “What is ‘ethics’, dad?” he asked. The father thought for a moment, then replied, “You know that your Uncle Murray and I own a clothing store, right?” The son nodded, and the father continued. “Well, suppose Uncle Murray goes out for lunch and, while he is out, a man comes into the store and buys a sports jacket for fifty dollars. After the man leaves, I realize that there are actually two fifty-dollar bills stuck together. Ethics would be… do I split the extra fifty with your Uncle Murray?”

It’s a funny story, but for today’s municipal leaders, ethics is no laughing matter. Whether politicians or employees, they are all held personally accountable for what they do and the things they say about their organizations. Today, as never before, we can all expect to be held to a higher standard of professional ethics. What ethical principles guide you?

All items on the agenda had been dealt with without controversy. Then they turned to what everyone knew would be the most difficult issue. Tension filled the Council Chamber, but no one felt the pressure like Judy did. CAO Judy Smith knew that whatever Council announced publicly would affect the election; the critical factor would be her estimate of the delay for the opening of the new Recreation Centre. Everyone in the room would feel the pain.

“Next on the agenda: the new Rec Centre,” the Mayor announced; “…  Judy?”

“This is it,” she thought. The dates were bad news, but the estimates were Marcel’s, and Marcel, the town engineer, was the best. The dates were right. “As you all know, the news isn’t good. Estimates are the July 1st weekend, but realistically, it could be as late as November.”

You could have heard a pin drop. Councillor Grumpfeld spoke first, as usual. “That is just totally unacceptable. What are your plans for replacing Marcel?”

“I have no plans for replacing Marcel, or anyone else for that matter,” Judy replied. “They’ve all done a great job with what we gave them, and it’s up to us now to manage this.”

Unethical  … sometimes it’s what you don’t say that matters most!

For some organizations, Judy’s recommendation would be seen as unusual. Rather than blaming someone for the town’s failure, Judy believed that the municipality would just have to tell the public the hard truth. What would you have done?

When you are in doubt about right and wrong or what to do about an unpopular action or decision, what principles guide you? Writing down a personal code of ethics for your job can help. Try it. Here are some principles to get you started.

Beware of Personal Benefits

If you would personally benefit from an action you’re about to take, it’s likely questionable. Take another close look at it.

Beware of Appearances

The appearance of unethical behavior can be as damaging as actual unethical behavior. Avoid even the appearance of crossing the line.

Beware of what you don’t do … it can be damning. With unethical behavior, sometimes it’s what you don’t say – the things you leave out – that matter most. In some situations, doing nothing can be unethical.

Beware of Jargon

If you intentionally use jargon, you had better explain its significance. Relying on someone to “get it” when you haven’t fully explained could be a way of misleading.

Beware of Consulting a Lawyer

This could be a “red flag. Sometimes legal standards can be less restrictive than ethical standards. Relying on what’s legal rather than what’s ethical could mean that you’re about to cross an ethical line.

Start a conversation about ethics in your organization. Being open about the issue is a very important first step.

At Ravenhill Group, our organization is grounded on being Ethical Head Hunters™, meaning that we actively search for only the ‘right person’, always keeping in mind that we represent you. We seek to deal fairly, respectfully and honestly with all clients and candidates at all times.

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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