Deciding Ethical Dilemmas - The Three Principles

In my daily business I'm frequently asked about solving ethics-based issues. I thought I'd share, in part, what I recently wrote for the publication, "Retail Crime, Security and Loss Prevention - An Encylopedic Reference." Charles Sennewald, CPP, CSC & John Christman, CPP (Butterworth-Heinemann 2008)

Not all solutions to ethical issues are addressed by a written company policy. You must think through the process of solving ethical dilemmas. We suggest there are three main guiding principles for deciding ethical dilemmas. Applying these principles aids in deciding not only ethical dilemmas in business life, but also the dilemmas we all face in everyday life. These guiding principles are:

  1. Is it legal?  Will this action be against either civil or criminal laws? By taking this action, will you jeopardise yourself or your company in the eyes of the law?
  2. Will I feel good about my decision?  This is where your personal values become vitally important. Think carefully about how you will feel after completing or observing an action. Will it make you proud? Will you feel good if your decisions are published in the newspaper? Will you feel good if your company knows about it? Will you feel good if your family knows about it? Is it morally right?
  3. Is it within the business principles of my company's business ehtics policy?  Will your actions go against the principles established in your company's business ethics policy? Is it fair to all concerned in the short term as well as the long term?

When deciding ethical dilemmas, take time to think out the problem because this not the moment to make snap decisions. The courts may review the choice(s) you make for years to come, which could have a negative impact on your career, and deal a financial blow to your company. If your company's ethics policy is unclear regarding a particular senario, always "take a partner" when making these types of decisions. Seek aid in the decision-making process form a supervisor or a company executive because sharing an ethical dilemma with someone else helps; that person may examine your problem form another perspective.

Curtis Baillie, Principle - Security Consulting Strategies, LLC