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Making Principled Decisions at Work

By Vicki M. Daughdrill

In today's business environment is ethical management an oxymoron? Not necessarily. The word ethical as defined by "Webster's II New College Dictionary" is "accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession."

In this article, I will provide you with useful tools to help you manage your work in a principled way and make ethical decisions each day.

Two best-selling authors, Norman Vincent Peale (author of "The Power of Positive Thinking") and Kenneth Blanchard (business guru and author of "The One Minute Manger"), teamed up to write a book on the subject of making ethical decisions in business.

Their book is titled "The Power of Ethical Management" (William Morrow, 1988) which discusses common ethical dilemmas faced today. In the book the authors provide resources to help managers make ethical choices.

As an ISO or merchant level salesperson, do you face ethical decisions each day? Consider the following questions:

Do you disregard the customer's needs and make decisions based solely on the financial impact to you? Are you so competitive that you will do whatever is required in order to get the business, even if it means not telling the customer the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Have you considered hiring someone from a competitor to gain access to their customer base, their sales strategies, or proprietary information?

If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, then you face ethical dilemmas in your work.

In the book, Peale and Blanchard describe what they call "The Ethics Check," which is a process that "helps individuals sort out dilemmas by showing them how to examine the problem at several different levels."

The Ethics Check consists of three questions. The purpose of each one is to "clarify a different aspect of the decision" and help "take the grayness out of ethical situations."

The questions ask for a simple "Yes" or "No" answer, yet all three require an affirmative answer. The questions are:

1. Is It Legal?

Legal means a decision is made in compliance with all civil, criminal, federal, state and local laws. The decision is also in compliance with company policy.

You should make decisions and conduct business using the highest standards of honesty, integrity and fairness, whether dealing with customers, vendors, colleagues or employees. If you answer "No" to this first question, there is no need to answer the remaining two questions.

2. Is It Balanced?

Balanced means that the decision creates a win-win situation for everyone. There are no big winners or losers; the decision made is fair and equitable to both parties.

Playing games of one-upmanship creates an environment where the industry suffers a reputation of unprofessionalism, cutthroat business tactics and general mistrust.

The pressures of today's focus on bottom-line results often drive managers to set unrealistic goals, which result in business practices that fall into the gray area of behavior and conduct.

3. How Will It Make Me Feel About Myself?

While it might appear that the previous questions make this question redundant, question three focuses on emotions and morals. How will you feel if the decision or choice you make is published as a headline for a newspaper such as "USA Today?" What would your family think if they knew about your behavior and actions?

Remember, unethical acts erode your self-esteem. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden puts it very simply: "There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience."

Managing your career in a principled manner requires inner strength to temper external forces; acknowledgement that you will consistently strive to do what is ethical when faced with difficult decisions; and the ability to make the hard choices.

Choosing to make business decisions that are black and white rather than gray requires a strong moral and ethical sense.

Peale and Blanchard share the core principles of ethical decision making. They call them "The Five P's of Ethical Power." We can apply these principles to both our work and our lives.

The Five "P's" are:


Purpose is "your objective or intention, something toward which you are always striving." Purpose is the foundation upon which we build sound ethical behavior. It differs from a goal, which is something tangible and time restricted.

Rather, purpose is ongoing, the overall reason for existence. Organizational purpose encompasses vision, integrity and ethics.

Pride Organizational pride is the way everyone feels about the company. When owners, managers and employees are proud of their company, improved performance, excellent treatment of vendors, customers and colleagues, and motivation to make every encounter a win-win are reflections of their attitudes. The need to rationalize, exaggerate, confront and diminish others no longer exists.


When struggling with ethical decisions, patience is definitely a virtue. Organizational patience "involves trusting that your values and beliefs are right over the long term." Waiting for assurance of a sound, correct decision in today's culture of instant gratification is challenging.

Obtaining bottom-line results while caring how we arrive at those results requires patience. However, a long-term focus on business development strategies that meet the company's purposes provides sustainable bottom-line results.


Persistence from an organizational standpoint refers to staying the course, honoring commitments, maintaining an ongoing focus on ethical standards and actions, and not compromising to achieve short-term success.


Perspective is the planning process; it is the deliberation required to lay the foundation for the organization's future. Perspective includes direction, assessment, evaluation and strategic planning.

Perspective also involves the process of "stepping back" and evaluating where the business is in relation to its mission and purpose.

Peale and Blanchard describe this stepping back strategy as information gathering, asking the right questions, and finally, looking for the answer within each participant in the process.

Successful managers know that decisions are so much stronger when synergy occurs; when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Do you work for a company that does not share your ethical values? If so, you have three choices. They are to:

  1. Resign
  2. Remain with the company and isolate yourself from the situation
  3. Remain with the company and try to change the situation.

If you decide that the third option is your best choice, remember that you now have strategies for not only conducting yourself in an ethical manner, but also for managing others so they conduct business in an ethical, principled way.

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at or call her at 601-310-3594.

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