Business Ethics Training – “The Office” – What Not To Do!

October 20, 2008

Business ethics training!  Across the nation I can hear people saying, “Yea, those people on Wall Street and in Washington need a good dose of that.”  Or, more than likely, in many companies, I hear a big “yawn.”

People, especially now, are sensitive to the need for ethical action.  However, ethical belief and action does not generally mean a commitment to teaching ethics.  In fact, in a national survey, most companies (there are notable exceptions) do very little to teach and promote ethics.  So often, as a business ethics speaker, I hear people recite the statement, “There is no such thing as business ethics, only ethical people.”   Well, that statement is all fine and good, but the reality is – businesses do have a culture and if ethics are not a core value, then unethical behavior is likely.

So what’s this “what not to do” stuff?  Simple answer…but first you need to watch this episode of “The Office” on NBC.  A link is provided.

The Office – Business Ethics

So here’s the skinny:

(1) They have a Business Ethics seminar because “there’s been some misconduct at corporate.”  All too often I find that the business ethics speaker/trainer is called because there is already a problem.  Not that fixing a problem isn’t a good thing to do, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid the problem in the first place.

(2) As soon as the “seminar” started, there was doubt that the company had a true commitment to ethical behavior.  If you were to truly ask the rank and file of your company if they would keep a highly productive but unethical sales person, what do you think they would say?  Their answer might give you a clue as to whether there is a culture of ethics (or right choices) within your company.

(3) How exciting – they first review the survey results.  Now, honestly, how often do you feel that company employees truly express their feelings or opinions on a company survey.  More times than not when I am consulting with a company I find that employees distrust the company and are more apt to tell then (the company) what they think they want to hear.

(4) The training centers around office supplies, excessive breaks, and other issues that do not, in my opinion, get to the heart of an ethics culture.  Banks making loans to people who could ill afford to make the payments is unethical – the heck with the paperclips.

Now…from here I move away from the show – although quite amusing.

When you look up the word “ethics” the following is the first definition:  the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.  All too often ethics training deals with the “good and bad” and ignors the larger question of moral duty and obligation.  Developing an ethical culture is centered around creating a moral duty and obligation – taking actions that are in line with that duty.

EXAMPLE:  The other day I heard a well known economist say that the actions taken over the past seven years were logical and appropriate.  I could not disagree more.  It was unethical for financial institutions to loan money to people when there had reason to believe that they may not be able to repay the debt.  These financial institutions ignored their “moral duty and obligation” in the name of short-term quarterly profits.  For a time they were rewarded by Wall Street…but as we have seen – all of that value has diminished.  The lack of an ethical foundation in their business decisions provide short-term gain and huge long term loss.  They made choices that lacked fundamental ethics.

I guess in the end…you need to determine if the definition fits your company.  If you need something better than what the folks in “The Office” elected…give me a call.

Otherwise in the words of “The Office” – “What’s right, what is wrong, who’s to say in the end…because it is unknowable!”