Thanks to my financial brethren at Enron, Worldcom, Barings, BCCI and all the companies currently embroiled in the stock back-dating scandals, I have sit through an ethics seminar every other year to maintain my status as a certified public accountant.
In my position as Chief Financial Officer, ethics and integrity are of paramount importance and as a company, we work hard to hire staff with these characteristics. Keeping that in mind, a survey was taken in 2005 by Deloitte and Touche of American youth between the ages of 13 and 18 in which they were asked the question, “If your boss told you to do something you thought was unethical, would you do it anyway”? An astounding (at least to me) 53% of the kids said they would do what their boss asked them to do.
As a technology company with a work force that gets ever younger as kids become more and more technologically savvy, that is frightening statistic. However, what it points out is the need for us to set the behavioral standards and to train our staff in what those standards are.
What are those standards? For every company those will differ somewhat but a recent survey points out the types of unethical behavior every company faces on a daily basis. In 2005, the American Management Association’s Human Resources Institute asked companies why their employees behaved unethically. The top five reasons:
- Pressure to meet unrealistic business objectives
- Desire to further one’s career
- Desire to protect one’s livelihood
- Working with a cynical, demoralized environment
- Ignorance that the act was unethical
We have all faced having to make decisions in light of one or more of those five reasons at some point in our lives. How we have reacted to those situations has helped define each of us as we moved through our careers.
How will you know what the ethical choice is when you are trying to make a decision? Let me leave you with one final quote from Potter Stewart, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice on his definition of ethics:
Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do.
Are you doing the right thing? And are you demonstrating that to your peers and those you lead? The world is watching.