You assign one of your staff to complete fieldwork for a major project. The associate is not capable of providing the requested services and tells you well before the deadline. How do you reward this person’s honesty and trust in you? -e-Factor!® scenario

There are plenty of unethical situations happening in the world today. In fact, there are so many it’s tough to choose which one to select for discussion.  So I thought I would turn the tables and write about a positive ethical scenario for a change.  Yes, Ethics can be Positive, or maybe more properly stated ethics can have positive impact on our people, our business, and our society.

These days we rarely discuss the positive value of ethics or ethical behavior in business settings, let alone reward people who act ethically.  Why don’t we? Whistleblowers are viewed as pariahs or trouble-makers instead of problem solvers or people who care enough to make an effort to improve productivity, quality or results. And yet, more and more studies are providing information that a focus on ethical culture offers major business benefits – increases in market value, higher productivity rates, more employee engagement, and lower turnover.  All of these translate into a higher bottom line. And these are the exactly benefits so many of us are seeking to improve upon, right?  So why do we focus instead on the problems?  Let’s change that for at least this article and focus on the positive value of ethics.

We can evaluate this ethical scenario in similar fashion to my previous ethical dilemmas, where I identify the ethics issue, the stakeholders, the options and their consequences, and ultimately make a decision on some action to take.  In this situation we have an associate who assessed his or her skills and determined they did not have the appropriate level of expertise or technical skill to complete the assignment.  The ethical “issue” in this case relates to completing the assignment on time, but really it involves the ethical qualities of honesty, trust, accountability and integrity. This person did not want to risk wasting time or providing a lower quality product.  Additionally, we were given the courtesy of enough time with which to look at alternatives for completing the project.  And best of all, our staff worker felt comfortable enough to be honest with us and trust us with the truth. This gives us an immense opportunity to offer training, support, and mentoring – as well as to demonstrate ethical leadership.  We’ve been given a gift, and how we respond to this situation will determine how this relationship continues into the future.

Our associate is showing signs of forward thinking or at least client-based thinking where he or she is concerned about job quality, meeting deadlines and customer service. What options do we have in responding to this worker? Some of us might immediately jump to thoughts of who to reassign this work to or the havoc to our schedule that this individual is causing.  Or we might think about how much extra time we would need to devote to either training this person or doing it ourselves, and that leads down the rabbit-hole of time management and deadlines.  Again, let’s flip this thinking around.  In this golden opportunity we have a chance to train someone on “doing it right the first time.”  We have the option of mentoring or coaching this team member, providing some key technical training, or even requesting him or her to do research on how this project might have been completed in the past.  The internet is a wonderful place, a place that did not exist when I was just starting out.  There is content on the internet that can teach anybody how to do just about anything, if we are open to learning new things….  But most of all, we have the option to learn patience and to return the honesty and trust to this associate and build a foundation for professional growth.

The stakeholders here are the associate, our self, our organization and the client.  Each of us has a different interest and requirement for responding to this scenario. The associate is in a rough place – terrified of the consequences to his or her job and career for being honest compared with the concern of doing a terrible job on the project.  As an organization we need to meet customer deadlines and respect our commitments, but what good is meeting a deadline if the quality is not there? Perhaps we can contact the customer and request an extension to the due date? If others depend on this team member and his or her efforts, there could be a consequence of other work being delayed by this situation.  Instead of allowing people to point fingers, lay blame, or get frustrated could we let the other teammates know immediately what is happening and ask them to provide assistance, training or guidance on where to look for answers or project steps?

Every situation has an element of ethics in it. How we respond is our choice.  We can see the positive value or focus on the negatives.  What’s your choice?  And how would you respond to this staff member?

Marcy J. Maslov

About the Author

After watching companies and clients struggle with ethical dilemmas, Marcy J. Maslov invented a business ethics board game to provide a practice arena for solving real-life ethical dilemmas. Marcy is founder and CEO of Empowerment Unlimited Coaching, LLC, a business coaching practice devoted to building strong, ethical leaders and entrepreneurs. She has extensive Fortune 500 and entrepreneurial background including implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley programs, creation of corporate ethics courses, forensic accounting and public speaking on business ethics. Marcy has lived or worked in over 20 countries, including France, Mexico and Canada. She is a Certified Professional Coactive Coach, CPA (Illinois), and MBA (Duke University). Contact Marcy at [email protected] or

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