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How Good People Make Unethical Decisions

When Ethics Fail: How Good People Make Unethical Decisions

Far too often does the process of making bad choices, unethical choices, begin with a simple almost thoughtless decision.  How do I know?  I am living proof that good people can make really bad choices and profound doesn’t come close to describing the experience.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I see this coming. When I first started “borrowing” from my client I had every intent of paying back what I took. Heck, I did pay some of it back…at least at the beginning!” Those were the words I shared as I openly confessed that the life I was living was, for the most part, an illusion. Truth be told for all my legitimate successes, I had over time become no more than a liar and a thief. My choices created consequences that he never dreamed were possible.

Some people have advised that I should not be so transparent, especially when writing an article for such a prestigious organization.  By my recantation of my ethical fall is all too common. People who fold their arms stating “I would never do something illegal much less unethical!” find that what triggers inappropriate behavior is a basic part of human nature.  We are all subject to temptation and therefore can and do make bad choices.  I am but an example.

If bad choices lead to tough consequences, what can we do to identify bad behavior before it starts? What can we do, as managers or leaders, to prevent unethical choices from being made in the first place? Those are two very profound questions, both of which are at the heart of why it is critical to talk about the Human Side of Ethics in your organization

The Three Components of Bad Behavior

Research has shown that three behaviors are at the core of what would cause or allow an otherwise ethical person to make unethical and potentially illegal choices.  These behaviors are well documented and for those who are charged with detecting fraud (Statement of Auditing Standards #99) are called “the fraud triangle”

Need. Described as perceived pressure that a person is experiencing, is the first and critical component of what motives a person to stray from ethical to unethical. Need may come in a variety of forms. The person who is in too much debt likely experiences financial strain – which was the root of my need. Alice, a church secretary, found her need triggered by her granddaughter:54’s diagnosis of cancer. Infamous Bernie Madoff’s need was certainly not money; likely, he was triggered by the need to be infallible. Whatever the pressure, need is the core emotional state that starts the ball rolling from a choice that is ethical to unethical.

Opportunity. It makes no difference what your need may be if you don’t have the opportunity to satisfy it then the unethical and potentially illegal choice fails. Without Opportunity there is no fuel for the potential unethical fire. I was a trusted employee, and with that trust came opportunity. Alice was trusted, and had been for so many years that no one could comprehend she was capable of any unethical activity. Madoff took opportunity founded in trust to a new level.

Rationalization. Need combined with opportunity provides a firm foundation, but the glue that holds unethical activity together is the ability to rationalize that what is wrong, is right.  If you ask most people found guilty of unethical/illegal behavior, they will tell you they felt their actions were legitimate. Mark, for example, rationalized that he was not “stealing” money as long as his intent was to pay it back. Further, he solidified this mental game by paying some of the money back. “Surely, I wasn’t guilty of stealing money as long as I was paying it back,” he stated.

The mind can be tricky and when you combine need with opportunity, and can rationalize bad:00 behavior as good, you have the perfect storm to move from ethical to unethical, and potential illegal, behavior.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Unethical Activities?

As business managers, HR Directors and those connected with Compliance, there are clear actions we can take that can help keep folks between the ethical lines.

Look for Need! While we can’t control what needs our employees have, we can be aware of any changes or activities that would suggest an increase in need and the stress that need brings.

I was the one responsible for my unethical actions.  I was in too much debt and succumbed to the pressure of my need by turning to an unethical activity.  I blame no one, but I also have to acknowledge that if those close to me (my partners in business for example) had noticed my changing patterns of behavior their attention might have thwarted my actions.

When subconscious need is brought to light or becomes conscious, then often the outcome is reduced inclination toward unethical behavior.  So, signs to look indicating increased need are: (1) calls from creditors or personal calls intensifying at work; (2) abnormal purchases without apparent new sources of funding; (3) lifestyle changes and/or (4) marital issues or challenges with aging parents.

Need is the fuel that supports the possibility of unethical behavior.  The challenge most managers face with thinking about “Need” is to be open minded enough to consider the potential sources of “Need” so that what might fuel unethical behavior can be suppressed.

Minimize Opportunities. The most effective course of action to keep our employees and associates between ethical lines is to remove opportunities to conduct unethical activities. For example, I embezzled money from a client’s trust fund. While I am not proud of that action (now some 25+ years ago), had the bank account that I used required two signatures, the embezzlement would have been far more difficult. Think about it, with that minor change what would I do, ask the co-signer to help me steal money from the trust? The answer is simple, of course not.  So, less opportunity equals less chance for unethical activity.

A practical question is how do we reduce opportunity?  Some of the answers are obvious.  Minimize opportunities by: (1) requiring multiple signatures on checks; (2) require people to rotate job responsibilities from time to time; (3) strongly encourage employees to take vacations or time off; and/or (4) ask employees from different positions within the company to identify how people can or do act unethically.  When a person is aware that their actions are being watched or subject to being watched, the “Opportunity” factor decreases substantially.  As worn out as the line might be, people really do respect what management inspects.  Of course, management must be subject to inspection as well.

Train Rationalization. Depending on one’s internal ethical compass, what one person can easily rationalize may be a problem for another.  Therefore, as managers our role (just as important as the more analytical “Opportunity” role) is to educate our people on the significance of “Rationalization” identifying what it sounds like and when it might appear.

When employees hear what rationalization sounds like, when we bring to consciousness what is active in the subconscious, it becomes far easier to support each other in our ethical choices. At a recent ethics seminar an attendee commented, “But everybody does it.” As those words were spoken, another participant yelled out, “Rationalization!” The crowd erupted in laughter as people began to see just how simple and easy it is to rationalize the “little things”. And, when we rationalize the little, the larger unethical choices become easier to swallow.

Your Ethical Culture

Every business or organization needs to remember that the creation of an ethical culture is exemplified in the actual behavior and attitudes of all team members.  The question is not so much whether you talk the talk (in policy documents, training materials or video or webinars), but rather whether you walk the walk.

Want to create a culture of ethical behavior in your organization? It’s easy if you think about it. When you start by understanding how good people make bad choices, and follow it with an effective ethics-training program that reinforces ethical choices and accountability, you have a recipe for success. Every choice has a consequence. What choices do you make for your organization to help keep your most valuable assets between the ethical lines?

About the Author
Chuck Gallagher is the President of the Ethics Resource Group and an international expert in business ethics. Chuck provides training, presentations and consultation with associations and companies on ethics and creating ethical cultures where people do the right thing, not because they have to, but because they want to!  Information can be found at http://chuckgallagher.com or Chuck can be reached via email atchuck@chuckgallagher.com.

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Changing Jobs - Be Prepared for these pitfalls

Upcoming Job Transition? Don’t Mess Up These Three Areas

On average, we will change jobs 11 times by the time we turn 50 according to the United States Department of Labor. Much of the job-hopping is early in our lives, but even in our forties we change jobs twice.  Going through a job transition can be difficult. There are three areas to plan for during a job transition, Money, Time, and Stress. Every job transition is unique, so the goal of this article is to highlight ideas for you to consider to make your transition as positive as possible.

Plan for the increase (or the decrease) in salary

Everyone knows they should have a budget. I have a budget, but in real life my budget is a guideline, some months are worse than others. When dealing with a job change a budget has to be more than a guideline. If you are in the situation of trying to find a new position, your finances will be stressed. Planning ahead, six months at least, can help prepare you for that transition.

What if you are getting promoted or have found a higher paying position?  You might think Money doesn’t factor in, but it does. If you don’t plan for the increase in pay, you will find yourself wasting money when you could be using that money to benefit your financial goals. Can a debt be paid off sooner? You can save for a future purchase. Having an increase in salary can benefit more than just your monthly take home pay; don’t waste the opportunity.

Factor in the changes to your time/schedule

Every day has exactly the same amount of time; it is our life that is hard to balance in those 24 hours. The two main areas that take up our time are job and family. A job transition will challenge this balance.

Again, you might think having a promotion or moving to a better position has no affect on this dynamic, but it does, especially at the beginning of your new position. There is always a learning curve with a new position. It takes time to get into the groove of a new job. Also, new positions create new expectations to your routine. It might be something as simple as what time you are expected to begin your workday. This changes your routine. Being aware of the time commitment at the beginning of your new position and the other time factors of your job will help in dealing with balancing the rest of your life outside of work.

Be aware of friendship changes… and stress

The other two factors play a role in your stress level. If you plan ahead with for those, it will help keep your stress in check.  But there are other factors that can affect your stress you might not have considered.

One of the great aspects of life is our friendships. A job transition will change these relationships. A promotion may make you the supervisor of your friends. Changing a position will mean developing new relationships, but also it will make sustaining relationships with coworkers from your other position difficult. Your social circle will change with your job.

Our jobs or careers usually reflect our personal goals.  Many times changing a job means we are moving toward achieving our goals. This gives us a boost to handle different challenges because we are accomplishing our dreams. Sometimes, though, a job transition reflects a hurdle to our goals. Or challenges us to reconsider our dreams. This can be a difficult time of self-reflection. A job transition can be a time to evaluate our personal goals.

Preparing for a job transition is important. Each transition is unique, but keeping in mind time, money, and stress will help you make the move easier.


True leader, Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Hamey Bowelhower

Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Jamey Boelhower

Who is Jamey Boelhower

Jamey Boelhower is a husband and a father of six, TIS, coach, and teacher for Sandy Creek high school in Nebraska. He is also an adjunct professor for CCC Hastings. You can read his regular blog “It Is All Connected” by clicking here. And you can follow him on twitter at @jdog90

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Three Reasons To Read More Books Today

Three Reasons Why You Need To Pick Up a New Book Today

The November 14, 2014, Inc. article, “22 Top CEOs Reveal Their Favorite Books,” shares CEO’s favorite books, but it reinforces an idea that English teachers have been saying for years, to succeed you need to read.

As an English teacher for the last 15 years I have found that reading is important for three reasons.

  1. Expands Your Horizons
  2. In our fast paced culture, where most information comes in small chunks and from people who think just like us, getting a fresh perspective is a challenge. Books provide that challenge because the content cannot be consumed in seconds. Reading takes time, time to think and feel. Even if the book is from an author we like, the story or idea is developed so that we can digest it deeply. Sometimes the idea challenges our thinking, other times it confirms our views but that gives us confidence that we are on the right track.

  3. Reduces Stress
  4. I have already mentioned the idea that books make us slow down, and slowing down helps reduce our stress. There is a joy to reading that we lose when we succumb to the hectic pace of life. Do you remember reading something and you just had to share what you just read? I have laughed out loud. I have cried because of a book. Going through these emotions, or connecting with a friend over a book brings us back to our selves, thus reducing the stress our faced-paced life can inflict on us.

  5. Spurs Action
  6. This benefit has been hinted at, too. Reading leads us to action. Yes, sometimes it is the simple action of contacting a friend to talk about the book, but many times the action enriches our lives. Books generate new ideas. Books give us courage to change aspects of our life or work and lead us to live a better life than before.

So, have you read any good books lately? Share your reading list with us in the comment section.

 

True leader, Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Hamey Bowelhower

Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Jamey Boelhower

Bio: Jamey Boelhower is a husband and a father of six, TIS, coach, and teacher for Sandy Creek high school in Nebraska. He is also an adjunct professor for CCC Hastings. You can read his regular blog “It Is All Connected” by clicking here. And you can follow him on twitter at @jdog90

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How to start living a stress-free life

How To Start Living a Stress Free Life

Life is Stressful

Another traffic jam. Deadlines approaching. Son has a band concert tonight. Life feels out of whack, too much to do but not enough time. Everyone has times where life feels overwhelming. We become stressed out. But there are two simple, but difficult steps to gaining control of your life: making a list and making a decision.

Step One: Prioritize

I am not going to profess to be an expert at this step. There are a many theories on how to prioritize your life, but I’m going to keep this simple. You will need a writing utensil and a couple of pieces of paper. At the top of the first page write the word “Now.” Take a few minutes and brainstorm everything that is important to you now. It can be people, jobs, material things, and goals that you want to achieve in the near future. Try not to judge anything you write down, just write it.

On the other paper write the words, “Long Term Goals” or even “Bucket List” and repeat the brainstorming step.

Now, take a break. Grab a coffee or even come back to the list the next day because my advice becomes difficult. For both lists rank the items from most important, number 1, to least important (the last number will be decided by your lists).

Step Two: Courage

We all go through seasons in our life. Our “Now” list will change. So will our long-term goals. We do need to readjust, keep that in mind as I discuss the hardest step in this process.

We only have time and energy to spend on the top five things on the “Now” list. We can only accomplish a long-term goal by moving it to the “Now” list.

To eliminate most of the stress in your life, have the courage to make decisions based on fulfilling the top 5 things you have on your “Now” list. Again, it’s simple but very difficult to do because we want to do it all, to have it all. But our emotional life becomes a burden when we don’t live up to what we say is important to us.

The harsh reality is that we only have so much time and energy. Too many of us spend these limited resources on people, projects, or things that didn’t even make our list, let alone were in the top five. It will be difficult, but if you keep the top five things on your “Now” list in mind as you make your decisions, you will find your stress level is down, and your joy is increased.


 

True leader, Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Hamey Bowelhower

Husband, Father, Coach & Professor Jamey Boelhower

Bio: Jamey Boelhower is a husband and a father of six, TIS, coach, and teacher for Sandy Creek high school in Nebraska. He is also an adjunct professor for CCC Hastings. You can read his regular blog “It Is All Connected” by clicking here. And you can follow him on twitter at @jdog90

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