Ethics, Morality and an Old-fashioned Definition

The Institute of Business Ethics has recently published a report: Employee views of ethics at work: The 2008 National Survey.  Two findings struck me.  A little under a quarter of employees (from a sample of 791) had become aware of misconduct at work.  Of these, 58% were willing to report that misconduct.  This is apparently up from 48% in 2005.

A quarter of us are aware of misconduct.  Either we are very perceptive, or the true rate is astronomical, because I’d bet many cases never come to light.

But that was not, shocking as it seems, what got my juices going.  It was the 58% who are willing to report it or, to put it another way, the 42% who were not.  Silence is consent.  If you say nothing and do nothing, are you tacitly consenting to the act?  I think so.

Now, we don’t know the details and I don’t wish to judge.  Well, I’d love to, but I know it would be wrong. The question is, what needs to change?

Many readers of this blog will describe yourselves as “professionals”.  Professional project managers, change managers, managers of all sorts.  But what does professional mean, and how does it relate to the question of ethics and morality in business?

I am going to revert to an old fashioned definition: a professional is someone who, at the end of their training, has sworn, or “professed” and oath.  It’s gone rather out of fashion these days and even few doctors take the Hippocratic oath.  Possibly because this now sounds a little outdated.

But I recently read of a fabulous new initiative.  Started at Harvard Business school by two of its professors (there’s that word again);  Rakesh Khurana  and Nitin Nohria, graduates of the MBA programme are being offered the opportunity to swear an oath.  You can find out more at http://mbaoath.org/ .

Take a look at the actual oath.  Like me, you will probably think “that’s not exactly what I would have drafted” but never mind.  The fact is, someone did draft it, and, what’s more, people are professing that oath.

These men and women are the new professionals; people for whom the title really means something.  So, I’d like to start a small campaign.  As project managers, risk managers and change managers, we need an oath.  What would you put in one?  I will certainly be giving that some careful thought over the next few months.

The “so what?”

Ethical behaviour comes from a commitment, make your own commitment, draft your own oath, contribute to a debate about oaths we should adopt in our community, publish your own oath, profess it publicly in front of friends or colleagues.

CODA:  Did Mike take the oath?

Well, I tried.  I then found the words: “THE MBA OATH IS RESERVED FOR INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE IN THE FINAL YEAR OF THEIR MBA OR ALREADY HOLD THEIR MBAS.”  I don’t hold an MBA so, much as I’d like to I couldn’t.  However, I am happy to state here, in this blog, that:

  • I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
  • I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
  • I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.
  • I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.
  • I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
  • I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.
  • I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.
  • I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honour and before anyone reading this blog.

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