The majority of us believe our own actions to be ethical. That is, we believe what we're doing to be right and not wrong. But it is this belief that provides the biggest challenge in business and procurement because what is right and wrong is not clear-cut.
My criteria of right and wrong are determined by my hierarchy of values. So are everyone else's. Right and wrong in a situation is dependant on our definitions and these hierarchies of values.
We might both agree that we should treat everyone fairly. We might even agree what that would look like. For example:
- Equal opportunities
- A right to personal wellbeing
- A right to long term sustainability
- Equal treatment
But meeting these criteria for fairness is only achievable, so long as these actions don’t compromise other more important values to us personally.
If our values are met, we'll allow a supplier time to respond to a query during normal working hours and wait till tomorrow for an answer. But if a response to that query within the next hour means the difference between us having a job and not having a job, then fairness goes out the window. We want that answer now and don't care what the person has to do to get it to us. Respect goes out of the window.
Although that example might seem contrived it’s what we're doing every day. Assessing how our actions help us meet our values, which includes acting in ways that may conflict with ethical codes of practice that on another day we wholly and unequivocally support.
Do you know how your values impact the decisions you make every day and what you judge to be right or wrong?
☛ Alison Smith is a consultant, facilitator and coach