Thursday, 5 March 2009

Jumped a red light, ever ?

There are few things in life that are starkly black and white. Corporate Ethics is one. That's why its so difficult, for its human nature to seek shades of grey. White is too startlingly brilliant. Darkness is not tolerable. Grey is comfortable. Unfortunately in something like corporate ethics, there is no such comfort zone. It is black and white

I read a nice post by Ujjal Gupta which prompted me to muse on this.

I believe breach of ethics always starts small. Its never a grand fraud that is created overnight. Its usually small things that are overlooked and slowly breeds a culture where its OK to do something as long as you don't get caught. The snowballing effect cannot be controlled and a monster is let loose. I think that's what happened at Satyam.

Ethics is something very personal. An ethical organisation comprises of ethical individuals. And often you can smell the nature of ethics in an organisation, by how it treats the small things.

At a personal level, here are some pointers, based on my own experience about the "small things".

  1. Do we ensure that every personal call made from our mobile phone is reimbursed to the company ?

  2. On a business trip, do we ever use company transport for a personal activity ?

  3. Are we truthful when we report information, (especially bad news), in the company. Do we camouflage, or hide it, or do we say the truth. It is possible to say the truth politely and courteously !

  4. Do we "massage" performance ? Or do we show as it is ?

  5. If the company made a mistake in the payroll and paid us more than what we should have been paid and does not find it, would we return the money ?

  6. When the choice comes between taking a decision that's right but is detrimental to the career and a decision that's good for the career but is not "right", where would we lean ? Such a choice often comes in an acquisition or disposal situation.

  7. Would we artificially boost short term results, in order to get the bonus ?

  8. Do we recuse ourselves in every decision that may have, or appear to have, a conflict of interest. Do we disclose all potential conflicts of interest ?

  9. Do we ever deal in the shares of a company, where we are privy to some information, however small, and where we will not be caught on insider trading ?

  10. Do we accept that gift that appears slightly excessive, but not outrageously so, that the supplier has sent to us for the New Year ?

I could go on and on, and you could probably think of a dozen better situations where an ethical conduct is called for. These are very personal matters, but still black and white situations, for ethics has no shades of grey.

And an important thought to consider. In each of the above situations, what would we do when somebody was closely looking at us. And what would we do when nobody was looking ?

Its past midnight. You are late to catch your flight - its the last flight home after a long and exhausting trip. You are driving to the airport. The road is deserted. There's not a soul in sight. You come to a junction. There's no vehicle to be seen at all. The light is red. What would you do ?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

a simple question you need to ask yourself in any situtation that is potentially sticky... would you do it if it was your money and you are running your own business? After 14 years of working for someone else (large corporations and including her majesty the queen), I had the opportunity to work for my self for two years. A great experience which helped my answer such dilemma's which you beautifully captured with the red light at the traffic signal allegory. By far the most insightful and thought provoking blog you have posted so far Ramesh. take a bow!
cheers
kiwibloke

Ramesh said...

Many thanks for your nice words. Yes, working for oneself is another good way of testing your position. Another way would be to imgaine that you are on TV with the world watching you and then decide what you would do.

thethoughtfultrain said...

You have asked such priceless questions - of the Moment of Truth types!!

Ramesh said...

Oh thanks thoughtful train - I'm touched that you are reading the archives.

Athivas said...

I have been/am guilty of some of these breach of ethics. Try to cut off on all of that! Thanks for such a nice conscious awakening post!!

Ramesh said...

@athivas - Thanks. I don't think there's a single human who can put a hand on his heart and say he never ever breached the black and white line. We are human. We can, but, try.

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