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A Question of Ethics
By Thomas Cutting

Ethics has been the topic of several separate conversations I have had recently. One friend expressed near outrage about a discussion she overheard between two of her managers. It ended with one saying, “Well, your ethics aren’t necessarily mine!” Another friend found it amusing that he was able to avoid the company ethics meeting by lying about already attending.

It is odd to think that we need training in ethics. No one seems to require training to be unethical. A coworker of mine once summed up the difference between humans and animals by claiming that we are able to devise a justification for our animal-like behavior. Is it possible that ethics really is in the mind of the doer?

Most companies have a code of ethics for their employees to read and sign. Do they think signing a piece of paper will make those of us with questionable morals magically ethical? Or is it more like the police telling someone “anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law”?

There are four general categories of ethics: Equality, Truth, Honesty and Integrity. How should I act tomorrow based on these four simple words?

Equality. Individuals should be treated on their own merit. We’ve come a long way, but unfortunately we can still find many examples where people aren’t treated equally. My responsibility is to act professionally regardless of differences (race, sex, politics, religion, etc.). I don’t have to agree, condone, validate or celebrate the differences, but I had better not use it to separate people out for different treatment.

Truth. Watch what you say. There is that sticky place between the “truth” and the “whole truth” that allows for a lot of wiggle room. The closer you can bring these two together, the more ethical you are. If I had a truth meter on my communications how close to a 10 would it read? Do my status reports cover things up? Are defects reported accurately in my test results? How big is the fudge factor in my financial statement?

Honesty. My conduct toward others should be fair and not deceptive. I suppose this concept rules out brown-nosing…unless of course that tie really does make my boss look thinner. If I have to finagle a situation to make me look good, I am probably stretching my honesty credibility. What is the motivation behind my action? Is it to make me look better than my rival? Do the right thing for the right reason.

Integrity. Uninformed or gullible people are easy targets. Integrity is not taking advantage of them. It is doing what I said I would do. It means refraining from calling in sick with an “eye” problem because I “can’t see” bothering to go to work today.

Ethics can all be boiled down to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It doesn’t matter if you can do it without getting caught. Ethics are a personal thing. I am personally responsible for my ethics and am expected to treat others and my company properly regardless of how I am treated in return.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).

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