With Ethics PREVENTION is the Cure

20150118_150650By Linda Fisher Thornton

Have you heard the expression “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” Eating healthy foods, exercising and getting enough sleep will help us prevent health problems. In the quest for good health, preventive habits make all the difference. It is generally easier for us to establish healthy habits than to correct persistent health problems once they start. 

There is an important parallel we can draw between human health and organizational health – prevention is also the best way to approach ethics in our organizations.

An organization with a PREVENTION mindset will take the time to clarify, discuss, engage, enable, support and measure ethical culture. Leaders will accept responsibility and be recognized and rewarded for positive ethics as well as other measures of success. If leaders achieve results using less than stellar ethics, they are mentored and coached to change, and if they can’t change, they are asked to leave. This pattern leads to “culture improvement,” and encourages others to uphold the highest ethics throughout the organization.

Organizations with a PREVENTION mindset are setting leaders up to succeed in an ethical sense and reducing the chances of having ethical problems.

An organization with a CURE mindset on the other hand will not take the time to clarify, discuss, engage, enable, support and measure ethical culture. It will assume that everything is “just fine” and deal with problems as they happen. If leaders use less than stellar ethics to achieve results, they may still get lucrative rewards. This pattern leads to “culture slide,” a disastrous shift in the ethical culture that encourages employees throughout the organization to violate ethical principles in order to earn lucrative promotions, pay increases, bonuses and other rewards.

Organizations with a CURE mindset are addressing problems after they have already eroded ethics and become difficult to eradicate.

While it is tempting to put off important prevention work because it takes time, how much time would we spend cleaning up an ethical mess that leads to penalties and fines and hits the news headlines? That brings to mind another old saying – “We reap what we sow.” If we want to be an ethical organization, only prevention (a positive commitment to ethical values) is a reliable cure.

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©2015 Leading in Context LLC

About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

2 Responses to With Ethics PREVENTION is the Cure

  1. Thanks so much Joe. I agree. We have to prevent ethical problems and act quickly when they do occur – or our organizational ethics will be “tried by jury” in the court of social media.

  2. Great post Linda! I see lots of CURE in action today versus prevention which is really dangerous behavior considering how the social media movement has made information delivery instantaneous and thereby causing damage so much faster. Keep up the solid posts on this critical topic!

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