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Topics: Communications Management, Ethics
Challenge/penalty of being ethically correct!!
Mary was a project manager for a leading project in a large enterprise. She was known to be practical and process-oriented and even more so when it came to understanding ethical dimensions of the project. This was a hallmark of her way of working and her team felt comfortable in her leadership. She had also been upfront in her communication to the leadership on her approach to some difficult project situations.

A recent event had disturbed this harmony though. Her actions were questioned by the senior management for one particular decision that she took in the keeping the ethical values of the project held high.

She felt that the senior management was not able to understand her point of view and that they were looking only at the financial and business value of the project.

Mary has tendered her resignation to the management and is about to inform her team.

Would love to know your thoughts....
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I assume that Mary did not just walk away but put in some effort to make management see the light? If so then I'm 100% with here on this. While this might be a hypothetical case the reality is that it is very common for management to expect project teams to walk the extra mile, take one for the team just so that they can add that extra dollar on the bottom line.

One thing she could have tried and that is escalating to the ethics committee (if they do have one) but that is not always guaranteed to work. I was in a situation once where management knowingly broke the law putting the project team in harm's way. The rot in this company was so deep that even the ethics committee refused to act. So every person must decide when it is time to walk away and better sooner than later.
1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Nov 11, 2019 8:25 PM
Deepa Bhide
Anton, thank you for your suggestion. I agree with you on informing the Ethics committee. I agree that every company has different norms. Thx
Interesting your question
Thanks for sharing

Does the company Mary works for have an explicit code of ethics?

Are people when they start working for the company aware of the principles of the code of ethics?
And you know you have to respect the code of ethics?

If the persons are not governed by the company's code of ethics, what are the consequences?

Is there an ethics committee that appreciates decisions, behaviors and attitudes about non-compliance with the code of ethics?

What kind of decisions has been made by the ethics committee (jurisprupence)?

Against the background of the answers to these questions, Mary can decide what to do.

I am convinced that there are only three possible outputs:

- Leave company, project and team

- Remain in the company and do nothing

- Remain in the company and submit this situation to the Ethics Committee
1 reply by Valerie Denney
Dec 13, 2019 8:09 AM
Valerie Denney
Luis, I love your analysis. There are almost always options. Often individuals don't take the time to think through the alternatives. What are the pros and cons? benefits and consequences? A tool such as the PMI Ethical Decision Making Framework (EDMF) can help.
Each organization has a code of ethics. That is the "checklist" to decide if some action is ethical or not. Above the organizational code of ethics is the law or the country where the organization is located. So, first thing to do is take into account that.
Deepa -

I've been a "Mary" before so this scenario resonates strongly!

As the others have said, once you have done your best to educate senior leaders on the importance of acting ethically and you have confirmed that your not acting would have broken one or more of the rules within the consolidated sets of ethics (e.g. company, industry, PMI, individual) then it comes down to doing the right thing even though there may be short term consequences or taking the easy way out but paying for it in the long run.

1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Nov 11, 2019 8:27 PM
Deepa Bhide
Kiron, I agree with you. This is a question of short vs long sightedness and a situation that we often come across. Thx
The details are not enough to assess whether it is really ethical or not. Mr.Luis, Mr.Anton, Mr.Kiron and Mr.Sergio already pointed out some aspects and options Mary has got. Having been in similar situations before, if Mary has logic for being ethically right, she always has a case to justify her position. However, if emotions overcome policies, then there will be a contention between her and management. If I am Mary, I will be rational and then standby, revise or reconsider my decision based on the materialistic impact it has on the project. We all have to accept that "what is right in your view may not be right always". Acceptance of mistakes is one of many facets of any project manager.
I love this thread because not only your case is in interesting (I may need more information to provide you with suggestions), I also appreciate all the replies: very insightful!
I agree with all replies, the only thing that i can enphasize is that in real life and depending of the country and culture, some organizations do not have a ethics committee (as was said by @Anton) and sometimes even the ethics committee exists, can be bias. Aside that, all the points refered in this thread are aligned with this scenario.
This is a great forum and all valid insights and perspectives. I think ethics is an universal algorithm which makes "0" valuable and meaningful. World map looks "0" shape. It makes minor parts very valuable. How we all navigate and build ethics at a universal level is always a challenge and disciplined project management approach will continue to help in that direction. "Mary is right or wrong?" - my answer is "right and wrong".
Dear Deepa
As you can see we built here a great solution proposal for Mary

It was only possible thanks to the contributions of all, namely:

What a show!
You can come up with more challenges :-)
1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Nov 11, 2019 8:30 PM
Deepa Bhide
Thanks Luis. The discussion with some open ended thoughts helps us come up with broad suggestions and also fuels discussion. I am thankful to all the contributors to make this discussion insightful yet not truncated to one decision alone.

Thanks again!
Mary was wise. It might be tempting for Mary to act unethically, perhaps believing the executives will reward her unethical behavior on their behalf with a promotion. However, leaders who do not prize ethical behavior cannot be trusted. They will happily reap the benefits of Mary’s actions (perhaps they will receive bigger bonuses), but if there are any legal repercussions for Mary’s actions the executives will decry Mary as an untrustworthy employee and loudly claim they had no knowledge of her actions.
I have worked with leadership like this, so I'm quite familiar with the thoughts of such individuals. The best course of action is to leave an organization like that as soon as possible.
2 replies by Anton Oosthuizen and Stéphane Parent
Nov 10, 2019 11:23 PM
Anton Oosthuizen
You speak like somebody who has been there :)
I've been and from experience, I can say that naivety is your biggest enemy. For years I was naive enough to believe that if I continue to fight unethical behavior I could make a difference but I do not think it is possible, which I found out many many years too late. If your leadership supports and rewards unethical behavior then it is part of the company DNA and you have to cut off the head and most vital organs to fix it.
Dec 13, 2019 10:26 AM
Stéphane Parent
And yet there are a lot of executives - and individual contributors! - who value someone taking the blame for a higher up. It's hard to understand why we should applaud the ethically-prudent paying for the ethically-challenged.
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