Moral Dilemma


“For too long the focus for leaders and managers has been on actions: what they do to achieve results…we need to shift our view to what leaders and managers are and how they think: their personalities, beliefs and attitudes, which have such an important influence on their behaviour towards those around them.”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a manager’s bad behaviour only for it to be excused because they’re a great performer or worse, “that’s just the way they are”? This laissez faire approach is reflected not only in numerous fraud cases regularly splashed across the news, but more recently the poor response to the government’s call for evidence on whistleblowing. As a result, badly needed additional reforms will be watered down, relegating whistleblowing to the bottom of the dusty policy pile once again.

It’s not that we’re inherently immoral. Most of us are generally law abiding people who trust each other. The problem is we take that for granted. I’m not suggesting we look askance at everyone like the thought police. What we need to do is stop paying lip service to values and make them real. Hopefully the latest research from the CMI regarding management morality, and from which the above quote is taken, will go some way to pushing this issue back up the agenda.

These days we can’t consider ourselves an employer without a set of values. They’re the moral principles the organisation is supposed to embody. Research consistently demonstrates that a match between corporate and individual values leads to higher engagement and satisfaction, but how often do we check that employee behaviours mirror stated values? How are a potential employee’s values more than a cursory consideration during the recruitment process?

As with many employment issues, prevention, not cure, is the key. Given the complicated construction of values – affected by upbringing, culture and many inherent factors – means that they can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change. We therefore need to ensure we get it right from the start. Think you can tell after spending half an hour with someone what their value set is? Think again. Without qualitative or quantitative measures any conclusions are mere assumptions.

Unfortunately values can be a dry subject often reduced to a list of “do’s and don’ts”. But as the CMI report points out, this can lead to “robotic compliance”, where employees just blindly follow the rules in place. This can suppress individuality, clouding value judgement and reducing the likelihood that bad behaviour will be challenged. And therein lies the rub. If we suppress the ability to challenge, we may be allowing immorality to flourish, unnoticed and unchecked.

We think we know people, but human nature has an uncanny ability to surprise. Values aren’t just words contained in a strategy document or a website, they’re contained within you and me. Should something so important just be left to chance? I think we all know the answer to that.

2 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma

  1. The most meaningful work I have been involved with in relation to values are the ongoing conversations and discussions around them. Unfortunately, what seems to happen as the norm, is a genuine commitment to create something shared; then – it enters the system and gets processed like everything else into something neat and packaged. Done, tick, *pleased looks*.

    What is written can be corrupted, cleverly reinterpreted, bypassed and ignored. What is discussed is real, and between you and me and our reality. Values are about being, and as you say complex stuff that we try to make easy.

    Where the challenge can start with HR is with the “great performer”. They may hit a target, but at what cost? If they are leaving a trail of destruction around them – short cutting systems, upsetting co-workers, disregarding internal protocols, perhaps they aren’t such a great performer after all. If they are unable to perform without disruption, why are they considered a great performer?

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