Considering the flip-side or sides is actually necessary for relatively straight-forward uncontroversial decisions and actions, especially when opinions on all sides can be aired, debated, and understood. However the 'greater good' approach can be a risky angle if used subjectively and proactively, not least because it tempts the decision-maker to play god, and to attempt a god-like appreciation of a wide and complex situation, instead of adopting a less personal and more detached approach.
Remember a significant inescapable part of ethical actions are the views and needs of the rational majority, of the people affected by the action or decision. If you don't know reliably what these views and needs are then you don't understand the flip-side enough to justify anything, let alone a risky borderline decision.
Beware of this 'greater good' dimension also when you see it used by others, because the defence of an unethical decision as being " The 'greater good' can be a big trap - especially for anyone prone to subjective high-minded thinking. Corporate governance in the face of big ethical decisions is characterised by wisdom and objectivity, not by subjective personal belief, worse still when it protected by control mechanisms and the recklessness which often accompanies emotional insecurity, or a strong personal 'faith' or power delusion.
Beware the leader for whom the personal victory of the decision appears to be more important than the decision's outcome, whatever the scale and situation - and recognise these tendencies in yourself if they arise. Leaders who make decisions subjectively and personally for reasons of building power, reputation and wealth, entirely miss the point about ethics, and their fundamental philosophy or lack of effectively prevents any real ethical objectivity. So, law alone is not a basis for ethical decision-making.
Nor is religion. Nor is 'the greater good'. And even the rational views and needs of the affected majority are not a basis alone for ethical decision-making. In simple terms this means you must be able to see the other people's points of view. This might seem a simple statement of the bleeding obvious, and it might be, but it is not often practised. True objectivity is quite difficult to achieve, especially for leaders under pressure.
Similarly, fairness is difficult to define, let alone apply.
Human Rights and the Moral Responsibilities of Corporate and Public Sector Organisations
Detachment is a huge part of the process. Objectivity is impossible without personal detachment. Fairness cannot begin to be achieved without detachment, since it's about other people, not the leader, nor the leader's supporters and environment. Being ethical is not a matter of evangelizing or imposing your standards and views on other people. Being ethical is being fair.
Being fair means understanding implications from other people's perspectives - not your own. The more widely and well you appreciate other people's issues and implications, then the easier you will find it to be ethical. Objectivity entails understanding how systems work and inter-relate. But systems here means merely the general sense of people and the way life is organised. Systems does not refer to complex mathematics or scientific formulae. Again, it requires you to step back - to detach yourself, resist personal bias and emotion - step back, be objective, adult, mature - fair.
Objectivity is a wonderfully potent and extremely flexible ability to pursue. Objectivity is flexible because it can be approached and achieved in so many different ways - intuitively, logically, systematically, creatively - anyone can do it. In the same way that the truth - purity, probity - is available to anyone who cares to look for it.
Public Sector Values - VPSC
The list is not exhaustive - you will see other significant perspectives for different situations. For small local decisions most of the list might not apply.
But if your decision has potentially significant effects, consider these different perspectives in striving for as much objectivity as you can. Ethical considerations comprise several variables in one combination or another, if you are striving for real objectivity:. Not everyone readily relates strongly to the principles of corporate integrity, sustainability, the 'Triple Bottom Line', etc.
The Limits of a Legal Compliance Program
For example, many entrepreneurial personalities are actually more likely to prefer and utilise logical and critical thinking, and relatively dispassionate decision-making, than idealistic principles. These qualities enable entrepreneurs to do what they do well, and most organisations need a good sprinkling of these types of people. These personalities need firm reasons as to why the triple bottom line and ethics and CSR are important to achieving solid performance outcomes. Process-oriented people; routine-centred, reliable, dependable types, will also not automatically buy in to idealistic principles, because these people are strongly focused on facts and real data, rather than ideas and feelings.
These people will often need systemic evidence and predictable processes to assimilate and support idealistic concepts and philosophies.
Therefore when explaining the importance and aims of corporate ethics, consider the audience. People have different strengths and styles, and some need their own reasons for buying in to idealistic aims, outside of idealism itself. Idealists and humanitarians usually have difficulty accepting that processes and financials should be the primary drivers of organisations. By the same token, people who are driven and motivated by concrete thinking and performance outcomes will not naturally accept that organisations should place significant emphasis on idealistic humanitarian philosophies and aims.
Aside from explanation and understanding, we must also be careful to manage the mix of organisational obligations. Without efficiency, competitiveness and profit, there'll be no organisation to look after the people and planet. It's a question of balance. As ever we need different people's strengths to be able to achieve this.
And while this is an over-simplification , some people are better taking care of the profit, some the people, and some the planet - but everyone needs to be aware of all three, and the fact that the future great organisations will be the ones whose people can best manage the mix. Significant organizational benefits arise from adopting and applying good corporate governance and ethical leadership.
Businesses and other services organizations derive substantial advantage, and avoid serious risks, by acting correctly, with humanity, compassion, and with proper consideration. Corporate governance is a crucial foundation in achieving these aims because it provides a framework for the organization's leadership.
Failure to do so means lost market share, and shrinking popularity, which reduces revenues, profits, or whatever other results the organisation seeks to achieve.
Failing to be a good employer means good staff leave, and reduces the likelihood of attracting good new-starters. This pushes up costs and undermines performance and efficiency. Aside from this, good organisations simply can't function without good people. Therefore they are happier and more productive.
Human Rights and the Moral Responsibilities of Corporate and Public Sector Organisations
Happy productive people are a common feature in highly successful organisations. Stressed unhappy staff are less productive, take more time off, need more managing, and also take no interest in sorting out the organisation's failings when the whole thing implodes. Ethically responsible organisations are far less prone to scandals and disasters.
And if one does occur, an ethically responsible organisation will automatically know how to deal with it quickly and openly and honestly. People tend to forgive organisations who are genuinely trying to do the right thing. People do not forgive, and are actually deeply insulted by, organisations who fail and then fail again by not addressing the problem and the root cause. Arrogant leaders share this weird delusion that no-one can see what they're up to. Years ago maybe they could hide, but now there's absolutely no hiding place.
And these standards and compliance mechanisms will be global. Welcome to the age of transparency and accountability. So it makes sense to change before you are forced to. It's human nature to be good. Humankind would not have survived were this not so. The greedy and the deluded have traditionally been able to persist with unethical irresponsible behaviour because there's been nothing much stopping them, or reminding them that maybe there is another way.
But no longer. Part of the re-shaping of attitudes and expectations is that making a pile of money, and building a great big empire, are becoming stigmatised.
What's so great about leaving behind a pile of money or a great big empire if it's been at the cost of others' well-being, or the health of the planet? And this will change the deeper aspirations of leaders, present and future, who can now see more clearly what a real legacy is. Adapted below it is applicable to all decisions in all types of organisations and in life as a whole.
It's a remarkably easy test to apply.
If you can honestly answer Yes to each of the above questions then you are likely to be making an ethical decision. If you have any doubt about saying Yes to any of the questions then you should think about things more carefully.