I can guarantee you’ll face a major moral/ethical dilemma situation at least once in your career. Even if you make the right decision, you’re still at risk for bad things happening. Here are some tips on navigating those sticky situations.
Today’s post is by Mike Figliuolo, Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS.
When I was a cadet at West Point, we learned the Cadet Prayer. We didn’t learn it as part of some religious education but rather because there were points in it about ethics. The one line that stood out for all of us was “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”
Sounds awesome in theory, much tougher in practice.
There have been times I’ve lived up to that and others I’ve fallen miserably short. I’ve had friends, colleagues, and clients have similar experiences. While it sucks to choose the easier wrong and deal with the consequences later, it’s even worse to choose the harder right and still get screwed over when bad things happen to you as a result.
I’d like to offer some thoughts on how you can protect yourself when you’re choosing to follow the moral high road. It’s a funny thing – when you’re walking up on the high road, you make yourself a nice, big, target silhouetted against the skyline. In situations where you’re doing the right thing, someone else is probably doing the wrong thing. Those are the folks who will try to take that shot at you while you stroll along the high road. If you don’t protect yourself, you’re going to find bad things happen to you. Sometimes those people taking the shot will walk away from the situation unscathed. Now that is a bad outcome. Here’s how to avoid it.
If you’re going to make a difficult choice, be sure you’re right. Calling the Ethics Line? Ensure you have all the proof of wrongdoing you need before picking up that phone. If you’re filing a report and it comes to light that you’ve submitted inaccurate information, you’ve just made some hefty accusations against someone that weren’t warranted. Even if nothing happens to them, you’ve tarnished their reputation. You can expect some less-than-favorable responses from doing so. Also realize the Ethics Department won’t look too kindly upon you for filing a “false report.” Be absolutely, unequivocally right before reporting something.
Get advice from people you trust before you take action. Close friends, significant others, family members, mentors, and coaches can be good sounding boards. They can ask tough questions, ensure you’ve thought of all the angles, and point out areas where you’re going to be exposed. If the issue is big enough, I am suggesting you literally seek legal counsel. Hire an attorney or speak to someone in your Legal department. They’ll help ensure the right documentation is in place to protect you if/when the bomb drops.
Document, Document, Document
Don’t be satisfied with just having a conversation. People will tell you “oh, I’ll absolutely remember this conversation and if something goes down, I’ll be sure to tell everyone what we’ve discussed.” There’s a temptation to say “Oh cool. My base is covered there.” It’s not. People forget things. People change their minds especially when they face the prospect of getting dragged into some nasty stuff. If they get implicated along the way and the political winds indicate they’ll be in trouble if they support you, don’t be shocked when their story changes.
Get it all in writing. After someone tells you “Oh I’ll totally remember this and back you up,” draft an email summarizing your conversation and share it with them. Ask them to write you back and confirm you’ve captured everything that was said and agreed upon accurately. When things get heated, that one piece of paper might be all that’s left covering your butt.
Keep Organized Records
All the documentation in the world won’t help you if you don’t have access to it. When people get fired or are under investigation, their laptops get confiscated. Their shared drive and email access gets cut off. When things get crazy, you might not have time to wade through hundreds of documents to find the one that can really help you.
Make copies. Store it securely offsite (within your organization’s security protocols, of course – you don’t want people dragging you through the mud for running a home server with top secret information on it…). Put it on an external hard drive. Keep hardcopies. When you do store your information, file it so you can find it. Create folders. Name documents with filenames that make sense. Sometimes you won’t have much time to defend yourself. It’s awesome when you can quickly find that one email that exonerates you.
I know this isn’t a pleasant topic. I know it presumes that people will do bad things and be out to get you. I know it seems scary to think you can do the right thing and still get hosed. Unfortunately, all those things are true. Think about all the whistleblower movies and stories you see where the person doing the harder right ends up having their life turned upside down. These things do happen. All you can do when you know you’re entering one of these situations is protect yourself as best you can. Sure, the truth will set you free but it won’t always help you keep your job.
Mike is the Managing Director for thoughtLEADERS LLC and a published author, you can find his books and more information about Mike, here.
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