The Next Right Thing

By: Marleigh Miller, Search Associate, GattiHR Industrial

Prior to entering the working world, I always knew that ethical dilemmas would arise in my career. It was mandatory that we conduct an ethics case in almost every business class in college, and being a Legal Studies major, ethics was naturally a subject in White Collar Crime, Employment Law, and almost every class within the program. What I didn’t realize back then, was just how often I would come in contact with an ethical dilemma in real life and the reality of how hard it would be to navigate around it.

When the unethicality of a situation is so deeply rooted within business and both the domestic and global economy, there’s almost nothing a little guy like me can do by the time the consequences of the dilemma reaches me. I also didn’t realize that making the right choice in an unethical situation could mean losing business, vis-à-vis, losing profit. When it comes down to having to choose between losing profit or giving in to an unethical business decision, I’d put my money on the average corporate worker choosing the option that doesn’t make them lose business. This could, in turn, affects the company profits, get them fired, and keep them from putting food on their family’s table. Instead, it’s easier for them to compromise, make the unethical choice or stay quiet about an unethical choice being made because making the right decision or speaking up against the wrong one is above their pay grade and jeopardizes their livelihood. Kenneth Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale, authors of “The Power of Ethical Management,” suggest that “it is easy to charge ahead and then rationalize your behavior after the event. But, the fact of the matter is, THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO A WRONG THING.”

If you’re more new to the working world, here are 4 things to come to terms with before losing your head: The corporate world is both ethical and unethical, ethical leaders do exist, unethical does not always mean illegal, and if we want to see change, all we have to do is make the next right decision until we’re the ones in charge.

We need to recognize that unethical decisions are made all the time and that people, including ourselves, keep quiet about unethicality often. But, c’mon, you’re telling me that after years of growing up being a conspiracy theorist and wanting to “take down the man,” you’re gonna keep quiet now that you’re in a position to speak up???

“But, Marleigh, how do we make the next right choice?!”

I’m so glad you asked.

Take it back to what you learned about ethics and use the ethical dilemma tests. However, this isn’t just for the millennials (you too, Boomer!). If you remember what you were taught about ethics, there’s no greater time to tap into it! If you don’t remember, or you need a refresher, here are a few of my favorite ethical dilemma tests to help you do the next right thing:

The Front-Page Test

This is my favorite because it can be used for almost every decision you make. The front-page test says, “If what you decide to do is plastered on every single newspaper headline in the country, how would it look, or, how would it make you feel?” Usually, if we want the world to know about a choice we made, it was probably the right choice, and we can feel good about it. But if a choice would make you feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed if the world found out, you know you should go the other way.

Blanchard and Peale Test

This test comes from “The Power of Ethical Management” and gives 3 elements of analysis when resolving an ethical dilemma. This test can be powerful in dilemmas with significant grey areas, which can leave room for rationalizations. The 3 elements are: Is it legal? Is it balanced? How does it make me feel? By asking yourself these questions, the dilemma can be quickly solved, as answering “no” to any of the 3 may deem the dilemma unethical. If the answer to the first question is “no,” then you can go ahead and stop there. If it’s “yes,” then continue. Is the outcome of the dilemma balanced? Will all parties involved be satisfied or is the situation one-sided? Lastly, how does each option of the dilemma make you feel? If you’re being honest with yourself, is the decision in line with your moral compass?

The Golden Rule Test

If you’re in a situation where choosing the unethical option will benefit you greatly, put yourself on the other side of it. If you were the party that was receiving the short end of the stick, how would you feel? What sort of financial or physical danger would you be in? Ultimately, would you want people to do this to you?

The Parent/Child Test

If your parents knew that you were about to make this decision, how would they feel about it? Would they be proud of you? Try to picture the advice they would give you in this situation. Or, how would your child feel if they knew the decision you were making and the consequences of it? Would you be setting a good example? Would they look up to you with pride?

The Justice Test

This test goes hand-in-hand with the question of, “Is it balanced?” Here, we have to think of all the parties involved and if the actions are fair to everyone, business partners, stakeholders, employees, etc. Will the action taken discriminate any of the parties involved, or cause adverse/disparate impact? In this case, we could also look to see who could be unintentionally affected by our action or lack of action.

There are many different ethical dilemma tests, some even tailored to very specific situations with detailed steps on how to navigate through the problem you’re facing. Never underestimate the power of Google when trying to solve a problem (yes, even an ethics problem). Ethics Ops is a great place to find all types of ethics tests, as they outline how to use and apply them as well as each of the test’s strengths and weaknesses. They also provide training modules and case studies for organizations large and small, for those that would like to learn more and make ethics more relevant in their business.

At the end of the day, we can only try to be better tomorrow than we were today. As cliché as it may be, the only way we’ll see positive change is when we become it. The best way to achieve this is to continue to make the next right choice and influence others, especially those we mentor and raise, to do the same.