Deviant Behavior Alert!
I’ve been gathering up news items surrounding the recent GM ignition disasters to prepare for the ethics portion of my fall management classes. After the Pinto fiasco of the 70’s, the Challenger disaster of the ‘80’s, savings, loan, and bank frauds of the 90’s—00’s, it’s clear that ethics problems in the biz world persist and I make sure students realize this.
College classes might well be the last time people are grouped together to discuss the matter seriously unless they go into healthcare/medicine—but wait, there are all those problems at the CDC now. Apparently some labsters are so eminent they don’t need to worry if highly dangerous molecules are packed and stored in “their” freezers, largely unaccounted for. And if poorly packed germs find their way to hapless recipients, well, it’s a risky world, people. Special delivery!
Those I know who work for companies large enough to have “ethics hotlines” refer to them as “snitch lines” that exist only for legal reasons.
I learned today that GM awakens daily to a fresh batch of burning questions as federal investigators note that the automaker had repeatedly, throughout the years, refused to answer any of the Feds’ optional questions on crashes involving their ignition-disabled cars. True, answering was optional. But GM’s internal investigations raised plenty of evidence pointing to that pesky ignition problem as the likely reason for countless crashes.
Their own studies had been conducted and considered for years before being pushed off to the side of somewhere, begging the question: Why was self-admitted responsibility and guilt on the part of individual drivers – those whose alleged driving caused casualties - left to stand without any interjection from GM? The burden of guilt borne by those whose cars took over the road with devastating consequences must have been horrendous. How did those in the know sleep at night? (Ambien “for when your conscious keeps you awake”)?
And Federal Agency, what took you so long?
Once more in my lifetime the same questions arise in this latest situation: was the cover-up intentional or were all involved just a) ignorant, b) uncaring, c) lazy, d) wholly profit-driven or e) driven by some belief someone else would handle it?
Probably all of the above. Add to that the fact that for all our academic emphasis on systems-thinking, we educators sometimes forget to drive home the point that systems don’t have a brain or a conscience. People do. Individuals must.
There was a primary school educator I heard about recently who put this at the top of his posted Class Rules list - Do what you know is right.
A simple directive that I have been thinking it over a lot. This is much easier said than done, but the good news is it’s doable with practice, though the practice is anything but easy. Try it for a day before you say or do anything, just for fun.
Sadly I’ve realized that there have been many times in my life that my decision making was expedient when it should have been deliberative. This is pretty easy to do in a sales position, by the way. There were times I was sure I was doing the right thing, but all too often had failed to ask a fundamental question: “Am I really as sure as can be that the action I am about to take IS right?” The emphasis here is on the I – the personal relationship to what my heart and my gut says is true when the situation requires me to get as close as I can get to it.
It’s much harder than it seems. I’m not talking about what you think God, your mom, your guru, or your teacher would have you do in gnarly circumstance. I am talking about doing what you know is right. That intelligence is not the province of language or rote ethics lessons of any stripe. It is borne of the disappearing art of self-reflection. This is supposed to go hand-in-hand with those lessons but too often doesn’t.
If I can get this one point across to students in the Management Ethics segment, maybe I can help them be part of the creation of a workplace that sustains us morally – which should be part and parcel of any sustainable (we love that word) enterprise. Do what you know is right.
Is there an app for that?