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Seven steps for ethical decision-making

Beyond answering "what to do?" an ethical orientation involves exploring principles and motives by questioning "why?" and considering consequences by asking "how" This requires a structured enquiry and creative response.

Ethics are mistakenly thought of as a list of rules. More accurately, ethics involve a process of evaluation for considering the impacts of our decisions and actions on others. Ethical judgment is not mechanical but involves the creative interpretation of principles or values within the practical reality of our human interactions.

Ethics are also mistakenly thought of as a sub-set of business decisions or actions. In fact ethics permeate all activities that involve interaction, and are therefore integral to Board deliberations, strategic planning, day-to-day internal operations, and exchanges with suppliers, partners and customers. While some professions have formal ethics standards, any task or job that involves others, or has consequences for them, carries ethical obligations.

Recognizing this integration, an ethical orientation involves a trajectory of considerations and conversations:

  1. Discovery
    Scanning the horizon through the telescope of key principles and values:
    • What are the larger social and moral issues? 
    • What are the best and worst-case ethical scenarios? 
    • Which ethical questions have been missed in the past?

  2. Demarcations
    Defining the personal and organizational terms of integrity: 
    • What are the "lines in the sand" which will not be crossed? 
    • What are the "Do Nots?" that fulfill the basic moral obligations? 
    • What are the parameters for interaction and belonging? 

  3. Debate
    Creating the interior capacities to invite ethical questioning and conversation:
    • Have alternative and critical voices been heard? 
    • Have the "hard ethical facts" been confronted?
    • Are options open enough to be responsive to ethical requirements?

  4. Discernment
    Investing the consideration and care warranted by the issue:
    • What are the ethical pros and cons? 
    • What would be your expectations if roles were reversed? 
    • What precedent is being respected or set?

  5. Decision
    Owning the implications with open eyes and proactive responsibility:
    • What are likely consequences from the decision or action? 
    • What are the accountabilities and who takes the responsibility? 
    • How will ethical impacts be measured and addressed as the decision unfolds?

  6. Due-Diligence
    Taking a 360 perspective:
    • What are the ethical variables in the planning? 
    • How are ethics addressed in implementation? 
    • What are the cultural supports for "real time" ethical problem solving? 
    • What are the ethical performance measures? 
    • What is the ethical follow-up - to attend, to mistakes or reward excellence? 

  7. Expansive Dialogue
    Engaging experts and critics beyond the company to add perspective:
    • How has diversity added to understanding? 
    • What are society's moral expectations? 
    • What are society's moral expectations? 
    • What potential truth motivates critics or those with opposing points-of view on ethical considerations? 


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