When I recommend ethics related discussions, I often hear the comment: “Why should we bring up this topic? People understand ethics, they know what the requirements are, they do not need such reminders”. I usually read under lines “let’s not bore them with something like this”. Nevertheless, these discussions have a purpose and a tangible result. In order to prove this, let me challenge you with a question I’ve found in Dan Ariely’s Irrational Game. He describes an experiment in which the researchers asked the participants to list ten books they read in high school and others to list the Ten Commandments (to the best of their memory). Afterward, the participants were asked to perform a simple math problem, being paid based on their number of correct answers. The trick here was that participants self-reported the number of questions they answered correctly, meaning that they could lie about their scores and get more money. And now comes the question:
How did writing down the Ten Commandments instead of writing down ten books from high school affect people’s cheating habits?
What do you think: did the participants who first wrote down the Ten Commandments cheat more, less or to the same degree?
Dan Ariely disclose the results of the experiment: those participants who were asked to write down the Ten Commandments cheated less. Kind of interesting, don’t you think? The simple refresher of the values we were thought (probably) during childhood makes us more willing to respect them. Or, as the researchers state: “When we are exposed to external triggers that remind us of the importance of honesty, we became more aware of our own morality. As a result, we act more in line with how we would like to behave.” (Mazar, Amir, Ariely, 2008).
And what is the relevance of this experiment to us, project managers, you might (rightfully) ask: well, we are responsible for creating and maintaining an environment in which the values we believe in as project managers (Responsibility, Respect, Honesty and Fairness, the four values listed in our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct) are respected. As project managers, we are responsible to set and agree on the norms that are expected to be followed by our team members. I know many colleagues who are doing this (some of them by developing those norms with their teams, others by referring to the company’s rules and regulations that should be accepted). But I don’t know anyone who – in the whirl of the project – takes the time to remind those things to their team. I’m sure that you know already that simply asking them to read the norms is far from being enough. They won’t, humans we are! So what can we do? As we have seen that even just a reminder can help. Can we have an interesting discussion with our team regarding ethics? The answer is simple: yes, we can! as we have a great tool. One that relies on the team’s answers (the beauty here is that they cannot argue against their own statements). The tool: Project Team Ethics Assessment is available to all of us (please download it from the PMI website: www.shorturl.at/bprAT) and it comes with detailed, step by step instruction on how to use it, how to facilitate the discussion and how to develop a plan to proactively address the team’s challenges.
Project teams are frequently confronted with potential ethical issues. Especially in today’s challenging times when we must cope with remote work, changing composition of teams, uncertainty regarding availability of resources, pressure of high expectations, and often blurred boundaries between the organization’s and the project’s authority. Let’s support our team members and create an environment where ethical issues are openly discussed and stopped to become an additional burden. Maybe people won’t speak up, but how can you argue with their anonymous feedback addressing what no one will talk about unless you have identified the need and created the environment where you can respectfully, honestly and candidly have those discussions. Give a chance to this tool: www.shorturl.at/bprAT.
Mazar, N., Amir, O., & Ariely, D. (2008). The dishonesty of honest people: A theory of self-concept maintenance. Journal of marketing research, 45(6), 533-644.
What words do you associate with A, B and C? Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie? Or Apple, Ball, and Cat? As students return to the physical and virtual classrooms, let’s have some fun with some concepts of Ethics…
What begins with A? How about ACTION? I start with action not only because it is the beginning of the alphabet, but in dealing with an ethical dilemma: Don’t act before you have the facts.
Let’s say you are faced with an ethical dilemma: multiple stakeholders telling you how to proceed and the directions conflict with each other. You Vice President says “Don’t tell the customer about the test failure until we have it fixed.” The customer demands “timeliness and transparency at all times.”
Using the PMI Ethical Decision Making Framework (EDMF), you would use the five-step process. Using these steps, the letter A can also stand for ASSESSMENT, ALTERNATIVES, ANALYSIS, and APPLICATION.
What begins with B? How about BULLY?
I am not talking about just a simply competitive, ill-mannered, or challenging personality. While there isn’t a single definition, a bully is someone who exhibits a persistent pattern of mistreatment. This may be verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical. Often, this includes a degree of humiliation.
What can you do? How about using the PMI Project Bully Tool? This tool encourages you to assess bullying behaviors in the workplace context and helps you recognize if you are properly interpreting the behaviors.
What begins with C? There are so many words that come to mind: Compliance, Conscience, and Culture.
One of my favorite descriptions of the difference between compliance and ethics is from a 2019 Forbes editorial by Bruce Weinstein. Compliance is adhering to the rules and regulations, or as he puts it, “what is required of me?” Ethical leaders ask, “How would an honorable person behave in this situation?” To me, this is closely related to having a conscience. What is your internal compass tell you when faced with a dilemma?
As I’m running out of space, let me finish with ethical culture. Is it simply an environment that makes it easy to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing?
This seems too simplistic. To me, an ethical culture is one in which there is a collective belief in the values of the organization and one in which individuals are empowered to speak up and take ACTION.
That brings us back to the letter A!
I could spend days just talking about the A, B, Cs of ethics!
What do you think?
What other words, phrases, or concepts come to mind?
I’d love to hear from you. In the future, I hope to address the D, E, Fs (and more) of ethics.
For more information on the above, see https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/code for the EDMF
For information about Project Bully see https://www.pmi.org/about/ethics/resources/bully
Catherine lives in a small city, where everyone knows everyone, they are childhood friend, school mates, sports mates, colleagues who worked together at one point in time in their careers, neighbors, relatives, or connected with almost no degrees of separation!
Simon, one of Catherine’s direct reports has been extremely busy; running an operational arm, establishing a new line of business, while at the same time driving the establishment of new service centers to expand the business and extend the reach to other geographical areas.
Catherine could easily see that Simon needs support in establishing these new centers. The level of complexity and engagement with internal and external stakeholders require a dedicated Project Manager, rather than an Operational Manager whose time is split in between running the business and driving the establishment of new centers. Each center is a project on its own right that has a complex of level of consultation, communication, compliance, and a focus on driving a large number of interdependent activities and tasks.
Catherine suggested that Simon creates the new project manager role and advertises it as soon as possible.
The role drew a lot of interest, as it offers a sense of purpose - serving the community, a rich experience in driving a set of projects end to end, including engagement with a variety of stakeholders.
The candidate list contained a large number of people, most of which would have crossed paths with both Catherine and Simon at one stage in their lives. However, the candidate’s name that raised red flags was Emma, a well-known close relative of Catherine. Catherine was planning to take part in the interview panel. However, seeing Emma’s name not only as an applicant, but also as a strong candidate, she opted out, demonstrating honesty and citing her conflict of interest. She asked Simon to formulate an interview panel.
Simon, being aware of the situation, formulates the interview panel asking each to declare any conflicts of interest. The interviews proceed, with mixed feelings.
Every member of the interview panel is aware of the relationship between Catherine and Emma. While each doesn’t have the conflict of interest that Catherine has, Catherine is ultimately their boss.
The panel discussed openly how they do feel a little bit of pressure, as they understand the relationship between Catherine and Emma. They are also aware of how they are going to be judged by their recommendation. They also understand the need for the new role and how critical it is to select the most suitable candidate. Taking their responsibility seriously, they go about interviewing, giving each candidate their fair share of time, the opportunity to respond to interview questions as well as ask their own. Following a marathon of interviews, they pick the top two most suitable candidates to be lined up for a second interview. All agreed that while Emma was a good candidate, she is not one of the top two – as a matter of fact she comes third.
The inner thoughts of the panel were:
The panel asks Simon as he conveys the shortlist to Catherine, to give Catherine the context and the reasoning that supports the top two shortlisted candidates.
The panel members await the results of Simon’s conversation with Catherine. Their anxiety and worries turn into delight, they are relieved to hear that Catherine not only accepted their recommendation of the top two, but also was happy to offer the job to the top candidate waiving the need for second interview. How wonderful it is to see Catherine’s words reinforced by actions, distancing herself from the situation, declaring her conflict of interest and trusting her team’s judgement and recommendations!
Reflecting on your own experience, if you were in Catherine’s shoes, what would you have done?
I have witnessed several protests in my city and around the world lately. These protests were against the action taken or not taken, perceived bias by the government, organizations etc.
Residents from my locality took part in these protests. When I spoke to them as why they were protesting against the government while they are not directly affected by the proposed law changes, they said that they are doing it for the betterment of the society as a whole.
And after few days, I read in the news that protesters burned public transport buses, chocked the traffic on the road and caused delays for several hours impacting commuters and causing inconvenience to the same society they want to make better by protesting!
One of the arguments given to me is that protest is their human right given by the constitution - the same constitution that explains the citizens’ roles and responsibilities. How convenient it is for these citizens to choose one side of the constitution while choosing to ignore another!
And then there is a section of general public who are not part of these protests, but they suffer greatly even when there were not faulty. For example, Hong Kong airport was shut down during the protests; there were significant property loss in India due to protest against an amendment in the existing law.
In my view, protesters must ask themselves some questions, no matter what they are protesting for, before they bring traffic to a standstill for several hours, take over roads and buildings and cause huge trouble to the general public who has little or nothing to do with the cause of the protest.
A protester cannot be ethical and justify him/herself if he/she acts only in his/her own interest causing huge inconvenience to the public, loss of property and resources.
I wonder how the protest will look if we respect each other? In that case, there will not be any bad words, slogans raised; there will not be any action causing inconvenience to the public and there will be a genuine attempt to understand the concern from both sides rather than just making the rules to be followed.
Was it a fair cause? And if yes, while a protest is exercising a democratic human right, what is the starting point for a protest to change into the wrong direction?
Question remains: Will there be any protests if we, every one of us aiming to have policies and laws, ensure that these laws are fair, treating people equally and respecting the individuals?
In the end, I would like to say that the protesters also require to be responsible in exercising their democratic rights, respecting laws, fair to themselves and to their fellow citizens while expressing their rejection to irresponsible and non-fair laws while being accountable for their own actions.
Picture from Pixabay
2020 has been quite a year so far….. And we aren’t even halfway through it. Individuals, families, friends and business entities have been stretched (and stressed) in new and unusual way. For those fortunate to still have a project management job, the challenges are often related to communicating in the completely virtual environment. Even in those organizations which had a distributed workforce before the start of 2020, things have changed. It was common to mix phone calls and zoom meetings with periodic face to face meetings. Gone is the physical networking. Gone are the physical conferences. Gone are the trips through airport security and staying in hotels. Gone are the day long whiteboard problem solving sessions.
Transitioning to a virtual environment requires a mindset change. How tempting it is to find other things to do around the house when no one is looking. How will the boss even know I cleaned the garage, or planted the garden, consulted for another company, or simply read a book unrelated to work during my normal working hours?
Is it that ethical expectations have changed? To that I say NO! The expectations haven’t changed, but perhaps the change that caused a slide down the slippery slope. Let’s take a moment and reflect. The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (AKA- the Code) describes the expectations that we have of ourselves and our fellow practitioners in this global project management community. It consists of four fundamental values described below.
First is RESPONSIBILITY. I ask you, if you committed to completing a task and you just didn’t get around to it, are you taking ownership for your decisions? Should there be consequences?
Next is RESPECT. I ask you, if you improperly account for the hours you worked and use the company laptop for a personal project during working hours, are you respecting the resources the client has provided you?
Next is FAIRNESS. I ask you, if you are consulting on another project management activity during your prescribed work hours, are you exhibiting fairness by using this situation for your own self-interest?
The last value is HONESTY. I ask you, if you tell your boss that the work is on track and nearly done when you know that isn’t the care, are you exhibiting honesty?
No one said change would be easy. What if the new norm is a continual evolution? I, for one, believe it is. Taking the time to look at the Code, and reflecting upon your own behavior during a time of change strengthens the professionalism of the global project management community.
Maybe Aldo Leopold (1887- 1948) said it best: ethical behavior is doing the right thing when on one else is watching. This still rings true today.
Images are provided by Creative Commons.