Are Best Practices Really Best?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Organizations are facing multiple connected challenges. First, they need to prevent ethical mistakes in a high speed, highly transparent business environment. Second, they need to engage leaders in relevant ethical learning so that the principles “stick” and are used to handle real problems. Third, they need to help leaders apply ethical thinking so they don’t just take “best practices” at face value.

“The ‘supply side’ of ethics — i.e., organizations’ ability to avoid ethical lapses — has never been more challenging.”

Ghassan Khoury and Maria Semykoz, The New Frontier of Business Ethics, Gallup

The important thing to remember is that we are helping people learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Paul Thagard, PhD, a Canadian philisopher and cognitive scientist says that “ethical judgments are often highly emotional, when people express their strong approval or disapproval of various acts.   Whether they are also rational depends on whether the cognitive appraisal that is part of emotion is done well or badly.” (Paul Thagard, PhD, Ethical Thinking Should be Rational AND Emotional, Psychology Today)

Teaching ethical reasoning is not about teaching what one should do in particular circumstances, it is about teaching students how wisely to make very difficult decisions involving ethical considerations where the answers are anything but clear cut.

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

If we want to implement ethical decisions, we will need to do our own ethical thinking and not borrow the thinking of others. Approaches considered “best practices” are often used as blueprints by organizations, but that is not always an effective approach when the goal is ethical thinking.

Tony Schwartz, in his HBR article What it Takes to Think Deeply About Complex Problems, reminds us that “managing complexity requires courage ­— the willingness to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty and let its rivers run through us.” He explains that “the best practice is to not overrely on best practices, which typically emerge from our current assumptions and worldview.

Replicating best practices is common since it seems to save organizations quite a bit of time and money. The problem is that the “best practice” that earned one organization a desired result may or may not have been derived using ethical thinking. It can be efficient, cost effective and impactful AND look like an amazing shortcut, but that “best practice” may not honor all of our organization’s values.

We need to do the work to apply ethical values to avoid replicating flawed thinking in our organizations. We can’t skip carefully ethical consideration just because an action is described as a “best practice.” To drive this point home, ask leader groups to run some “industry best practices” through your organization’s values to see how well they hold up.

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Respect, Interpreted Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I believe that respect is a key structural beam supporting the organizational “house.” Without it, trust falls, productivity falls, engagement drops and turnover increases. It becomes harder to attract top talent for open positions in organizations where respect is not a minimum standard. Without respect, an organization’s culture becomes structurally unsound and devolves into “a house of cards” at risk of many negative impacts beyond those mentioned here. 

With respect as a minimum standard for which people are held accountable, an organization creates a “positive shield’ that deflects a wide range of negative interpersonal behaviors. If we require respect, for example, then discourages a wide range of negative behaviors including judging, blaming, name-calling or excluding.

By requiring respect as the MINIMUM standard, we are creating a preventive and protective shield that protects the organization’s culture. 

Think of what happens to a house when a structural beam is removed. It collapses in on itself. That is what begins to happen to organizational culture the moment a single word or action that is disrespectful is “approved” through silence. Why is silence considered approval? Thomas Paine famously said “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” When leaders look the other way, they are on the path to making a disrespectful act appear “right” whether that was intended or not. Granted, talking about respect is difficult and we don’t have clear instructions for how to build a culture of respect. Or do we? Stayed tuned for Respect, Interpreted Part 2.

 

 

 

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Ready To Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? – Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each day brings new challenges for leaders. They struggle to deal with uncertainty and complexity and sometimes the most ethical choices are not obvious. In this kind of environment, we can’t assume that things are going well even when there are no lawsuits or imminent ethical crises. What we need to do is build an ethical workplace that will discourage ethical problems.

The focus of this week’s post is on Ways to Improve Accountability For Ethics. Here are 3 ways to avoid relying on the status quo – that also help you “do good” in your organization, community and world. 

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)?

Improve Accountability For Ethics

 

  1. EXPECT MORE FROM SENIOR LEADERS: Think of several examples of senior leaders who were coached, penalized or fired for ethical violations. If you can’t think of any, does that mean your organization prevents problems or lets senior leader infractions slide by? Always hold senior leaders to the highest standards since they model what others throughout the organization should do.
  2. HAVE ALL LEADERS MODEL AND REWARD ETHICAL ACTIONS: Keeping in mind corporate ethics policies and company values, examine what leaders are making important by their actions.  What are they doing? What are they holding people accountable for? Make sure that ethical decisions and actions are modeled and rewarded.
  3. SEE YOUR CEO AS THE “ULTIMATE ETHICS OFFICER”: Take a careful look at who is responsible for ethics in your organization. Is it just the compliance officer and HR Manager? It is the CEO and 1 or 2 other managers? Or is it every manager and every associate? Make sure that everyone is responsible, and be sure that the CEO is actively playing the role of the “Ultimate Ethics Officer.”

These 3 ways to change the ethics quo improve accountability for ethics. Are you ready for MORE actions you can take to move your organization toward ethical prevention and practice? Read on for more posts in this series!

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 2

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Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

Learn how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.  

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

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