How to Check Your Ethics and Do the Right Thing


How to Check Your Ethics and Do the Right Thing

We need to make sure our ethics show up in all our actions.

Ethicists argue that people make decisions about what action to take based on two questions: 

1. How many people will be damaged by me doing the wrong thing (and how big would that damage be)? and

2. Is this just wrong and therefore I won’t do it?

Most of us know what to do and want to do the right thing. Whether we actually do the right thing or not is another question. 

There is no excuse for knowing what is right but still doing the wrong thing, but there could be reasons that explain that behaviour. 

Your decision to do what you know is wrong might be driven by intrinsic or extrinsic influences. Intrinsic influences might be wanting to save face, prove a point, or gain status or money. Extrinsic influences might be pressure from your boss, your key performance indicators or other-people-doing-it-so-why-can’t-I. Those influences, you might argue, are reasons for doing the wrong thing. I’d argue they are excuses. 

I have taught Primary Ethics to children at primary school for the last few years, and my experience has supported the learning in my social work degree: children have the ability from a very young age to know right from wrong and identify what is better and worse behaviour. They understand the nuances of various influences on their decisions and can discern what will and won’t work for themselves, those around them and the world.

In fact, children might be better at this than adults who might find the complexity of a decision gets in the way of doing the right thing. 

Win-Win is good, but Triple Win is better. 

Those of us in business understand the idea of win-win. I would argue, though, that Triple Win is better – that’s wins for you, those around you and the world.

The more people win from any decision and action, the more support you will build for your services and the better impact you can make on the world. 

What, then, have our Australian banks been thinking? The recent Royal Banking Commission has uncovered the most atrocious behaviour by those in financial institutions in Australia which has created wins for some while creating devastating losses for others.

If those in banking can be charging a fee for no services, sometimes even after someone dies, and putting people at dreadful risk by offering dodgy advice while lining their own pockets, the question must be asked who the public can trust.

The behaviour of banks is particularly shocking as the public has been let down by trusted institutions.

We grow up believing that there are certain institutions and professions that we should trust, like police, the medical profession, religious institutions and banks. As one after the next of these professions shows their real colours, the community is becoming cynical and jaded. So who can we trust? The Australian Royal Banking Commission should be a reminder to every employee and business owner to exercise our ethics muscle.

The question is not whether we will be found out or whether our bad actions will damage people. The question is whether our actions are right or wrong, good or bad. Just that. 

Yes, there need to be bodies that oversee banking and financial planning practices. But much more important is ensuring that each person sharpens their ability to assess right from wrong, and take full responsibility to be on the good side of history. Checks and balances can be put in place, but we have to each take responsibility for doing the right thing.

So here’s your ethics checklist for when to do the right thing. 

1. Will people be damaged by my doing the wrong thing?

Yes? Do the right thing. 

No? Still, do the right thing. 

2. Is someone watching? 

Yes? Do the right thing. 

No? Hey, you know the answer. Just do the right thing. 

3. Will there be damage from doing the wrong thing? 

Yes? Do the right thing. 

No? Still, for heaven’s sake, do the right thing. 

You get the picture. 

Those of us in Small Business know how important trust and relationships are. We have to stand for what we believe in and walk the talk. We need to build our ethics muscle every chance we get.

Small business owners need to do the right thing wherever we are, and whoever is watching. Really, it is as simple as that

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