// Nov 8, 2017 BY simon

Always do the right thing

“The time is always right to do the right thing.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

An ethical approach in any undertaking is very important. Given the influence that communication has, for us operating to clear and appropriate principles is absolutely vital.

No wonder then that industry associations and professional bodies like the PRCA and CIPR cover being ethical in their Codes of Conduct.

Of late this has been a big topic, not least because one well-known communication agency has been rightly criticised for their campaign for a South African investment business.

Clearly they got things hopelessly wrong and much has been said and written about the individual and collective failings (with Andy Cave of CorpComms magazine offering his typical insight).

I won’t add to that here.

Rather, for me, when it comes ‘doing the right thing’ three vital features merit consideration:

1. Judgement is key – in too many organisations judgement is becoming a forgotten competence. In its place we hear references to ‘management’ and ‘leadership’.

I think the former is too often the term for the inflexible adoption of processes that deny ‘managers’ the opportunity to take account of specific circumstances and context to make good judgements.

Then with the clamour for ‘leadership’ what is (wrongly) demanded is that the need for an immediate response and being seen as decisive are placed above consideration and judgement. Such is the fervour for unwavering certainty that any sensible reappraisal is deemed a u-turn and a sign of weakness, whatever the evidence points to (Brexit anyone?)

2. Principles please – I’m nowhere near as eloquent as Martin Luther King, Jr. but one of my much-loved phrases is ‘I love principles, hate rules’.

Principles have a purpose, a relevance and exist to deliver something deemed to be good – where the intention to deliver something worthwhile is more important than adherence to precisely defined criteria. Rules are often just ‘the way you have to do things around here’ and are a prescription for action or inaction that cannot possibly cover every eventuality. Rules might once have been developed to support principles, however, they are seldom (if ever) revised whenever a material circumstance changes and all too rapidly they can be slavishly observed and enforced with no sense of purpose or context.

3. Structure – the scale, shape and connections within an organisation critically impact oversight, the acceptance of responsibility and decision-making. All three being key components in the individual and corporate competence of judgement.

There is no surprise that people often report being happier to work in small organisations. We are a small business and whilst I am happy to see us grow, I would never seek to become bigger if it eroded our ability to have sound principles and good judgement.

Not that big organisations are doomed – it just needs to be recognised that ‘always doing the right thing’ can be more challenging.

I think it is the increased number of connections (formal and informal) and how they increase the distance between what an individual does and the final output can complicate what might appear simple judgements like ‘is this right’, ‘should we be doing this’.

However, investing in people and developing their competence can deliver great benefits when organisations are recognised and admired for their ethical approach.

Now another case study exists that points to the risk to organisations when they fail to recognise that ‘the time is always right to always do the right thing’. 

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