Global Ethics Day 2021: Actions for business leaders
Today is Global Ethics Day.
Yes, it does seem like there’s a day for everything. With that said, I reckon this is an important one.
Well, I, like many others, believe that ethics matter. A lot.
But, before getting into some basic leadership lessons learned from my last decade working at the forefront of ‘some’ ethical challenges and opportunties, let’s get clear on what I mean when I say “ethics”.
After paying close attention to, and doing some work with, the fine folks from The Ethics Centre, I’ve become a big fan of their framing.
In essence, ethics is a process of reflection. It encourages us to be thoughtful and considerate. It helps us ask and attempt to answer tough questions about what we assume and believe. It challenges us — through the process we execute — to make our best decisions.
Myriad ‘ethics frameworks’ exists. The Ethics Centre’s framework consists of purpose, values and principles. The type of frameworks I’ve helped design in the past are informed by purpose, values and principles, with additional focus placed on the tools, practices etc. that encourage certain behaviours and discourage other behaviours.
An example of this can be seen in this case study about our work with Autodesk.
With that out of the way, and recognising I’ve skipped over a few thousand years of context, let’s get into it.
Global Ethics Day Actions
I’m going to keep this super brief. This is largely because one of my observations over the last decade has been that ethics is sometimes seen as too hard. It’s confronting. It’s ambiguous. And at times, it just gets swept under the rug.
So, to start making the behaviours of ethical decision making easier, we will start tiny.
Action 1: Define your purpose, values and principles
It’s totally worth reading this.
Ethical By Design: Principles For Good Technology - The Ethics Centre
A guidebook for creating ethical technology and products. Access our principles for ethical design, and tips for…
Once you have, find a quiet place. Grab your favourite brew. Take out a pencil and paper. Attempt to describe your purpose, values and principles in words that mean something to you.
There’s no ‘right’. What matters is getting this done. It’s likely you will reflect and refine this over time.
Action 2: Draw the line
This is more figurative. However, you could literally draw this out in a tactile manner (pencil and paper).
What I’m asking you to do — based on your purpose, values and principles — is be explicit about the things you will and won’t do or will and won’t support.
Start with the stuff you’re clear on. Expect things to get more nuanced and colourful if you keep at this over time. The more uncomfortable this gets, the more useful this process is likely to be.
Action 3: Take this perspective to work
What I mean here is take the work hat off. You’re not just VP of X and company Y. You’re a person, a citizen, a mother, a sibling, a friend, a community member and so many other things that have intrinsic value and meaning.
So, going forward, when you’re assessing a proposal, an investment decision, a trade off or something else that the company might consider ‘BAU’, augment your typical process with your purpose, values and principles.
If there’s a very clear contradiction, you now have the opportunity to do something different.
This might start with some questions framed out of genuine curiosity (have we thought about this? What if we added this and subtracted this? what about those folks over there, have we considered how they will be impacted? One of our companies values is X, there’s a real risk that we directly contradict that if we do Y etc.).
If there’s clear alignment, make this known. Communicate why you;re ecstatic to support this, how it feels purposeful to you etc.
The more we normalise these types of discussions, the less of a ‘burden’ the process of ethics becomes.
With that, I bid you a good day. Here’s to ethics making the world a better place, one tiny step at a time.