Ethics & Professionalism - CiteHR
Kamadana Pradeep
Hr Professional

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Dear All,


Why Good People Do Bad Things!

This traditional perspective on the key ethical issue facing individuals and organizations masks the real question that everyone working within a legal organization should address: Why do good people sometimes make bad ethical choices?

Leaders in the legal community plow a field filled with ethical land mines no less perilous than those navigated by their clients. Nonetheless, many lawyers who head firms ignore organizational ethics as a management imperative for their own firms. This remains the case even though those very same lawyers are instrumental in shaping the ethical culture of their clients' enterprises and despite the fact that a number of firms have come under scrutiny for their business and billing practices.

Critical to this issue is the question of why individuals we would consider "bad" make improper or unethical choices. This traditional perspective on the key ethical issue facing individuals and organizations masks the real question that everyone working within a legal organization should address: Why do good people sometimes make bad ethical choices?

In our attempts to rationalize why good people do bad things, recent focus has been on the organizations, institutions, etc. in which these "good" people work. It is often in a competitive environment that perhaps the greatest pressures for good people to either commit to bad choices or engage in unethical conduct can exist.

Over the past several decades the legal community has seen a dramatic shift in the definition and focus of the practice of law. No longer is the practice of law perceived as a profession in the traditional sense (except by a dwindling minority). Indeed, the practice of law has grown into a multifaceted business in which competition is stiff, the stakes are high, and emphasis rests heavily on how much money the practice brings in rather than the degree to which the client is efficiently and satisfactorily served.

With this transition into the more entrepreneurial realm comes all the nuances, variances, and subtleties that are inherent to business entities, including the job-related dilemmas and pressures that plague employees of these entities daily. Ethical issues that can arise include conflicts of interest, improper giving and/or receiving of gifts and other amenities, questionable pricing or billing strategies, the improper gathering of competitive information, treatment of employees, sexual harassment, revealing confidential information, and lying to supervisors. Further, whether unethical behavior is recognized and appropriately dealt with in an organization is somewhat of a product of the "corporate culture" of that organization.

When vision, standards, and a strong, visible show of support from the leadership for practicing ethical behavior is lacking, any corporate culture — including a legal organization — can prove to be a breeding ground for unethical behavior. Conversely, given the proper framework and show of support from the top, the corporate culture can be the venue to foster ethical behavior by an organization’s employees.

What Influences Bad Choices or Unethical Behavior?

People can have the most forthright and scrupulous of intentions, but put them in an office setting where they are called upon daily to make quick, sometimes incongruous decisions without sufficient time to reflect on the consequences, and even the most ethical individual can succumb to the challenges of the work place and make bad decisions or engage in unethical behavior.

People generally want to perform their jobs successfully. Again, however, a problem can rest with what is often called the “corporate culture” of an organization. For individuals to perform their jobs well, choices must oftentimes be made when success is defined almost exclusively in monetary terms, when the decision-maker does not possess the proper information or guiding mechanisms with which to render a good decision, is given powerful incentives to do "whatever it takes," or does not have time to rationally decipher the real problem(s) that should be addressed. In that regard, more often than not, bad choices are made and unethical conduct results.

In any business organization or institution, the choices and decisions employees make can stem from any one or number of pressures and/or rationalizations. Some of the more prominent of these influences are given below.

There are, of course, a multitude of other factors that can influence well-meaning individuals to make bad choices or engage in unethical behavior. In the context of the practice of law, not only must lawyers deal with the pressures of operating within a business, they must also deal with the pressures inherent to the practice of law: meeting filing and discovery deadlines; making court appearances; keeping the client abreast of the status of his or her case; following the rules of practice in any given jurisdiction; and, of course, adhering to the applicable rules of professional responsibility.

These pressures compounded by those inherent to the business environment equate to a burden that may be too large for some to carry. Too often there are choices that must be made between competing interests (e.g., between the business aspect of law and the practice of law itself). The potential for bad choices to be made and for things to slip through the cracks is great.

Eight Rationalizations ForEthical Compromise

1. I have to cut corners to meet my goals.

2. I lack the time /resources to do what is right.

3. My peers expect me to act this way.

4. My superiors want results, not excuses.

5. I don't think it is really wrong or illegal.

6. Others would think that it is a good choice.

7. No one will ever know the difference.

8. I am afraid to do what I know is right.

Michael G. Daigneault

Hi Rajendra,
Very exhaustive analysis but truly a masterpiece. Why do we do mistakes though we know that it is mistake? The society, peers and many other external influences play havoc with your own principles and ideas. Somewhere sometime you got to succumb to these external pressures either in a tiny way or on a major scale like the most infamous Telgi or Abu Salem (Monica Bedi included). Not only the corporate culture that is breeding this unethical culture, it is there everywhere in this dog eat dog world. No emotions, no empathy - if they are there in human beings - what is the necessity of mental asylums and old age homes where many adults are languishing despite the fact that their families and children are well off.
Competition has to there which should be healthy but not at the cost of the other human being.
We all are one & we should remain so.

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