Many of our local leaders appear to have lost their way. In recent days we’ve read about the stock option backdating debacle and the HP spying scandal that’s sure to stay in the spotlight thanks to Carly Fiorina’s tell-all book about the ‘good old boy’ network she fought against and a Board of Directors who exhibited less than emotionally intelligent behavior.
But at some point we’re all faced with doing the right thing for the right reason, whether it’s personally or professionally. Sometimes the decision is more straightforward—is it legal or not?—but other times you could find yourself struggling with the ethical nuance of a decision.
Case in point. Years ago I was responsible for overseeing a strategic supplier operation for a high-tech company with the help of two talented partners from the Purchasing and Finance groups.
We were accountable for sourcing, selecting and managing the supplier relationships, ensuring that we covered the bases for any “gotchas” that could bite the company in the backside. The roles of our Legal and Risk Management departments were to help us dot the i’s and cross the t’s before signing on the dotted line.
Decoding the Ethical Gray Area
In those days ethics officers weren’t part of the corporate landscape. We had to make tough choices using our personal ethics and the company’s code of conduct as guidelines.
At one point during a rather arduous RFP process, the team was close to making a final supplier selection when we discovered some critical third party information that went against the spirit of the company’s values.
Did the supplier knowingly withhold information from us or did our proposal questions not probe deep enough? Although the problem wasn’t illegal it could have surfaced as a public relations nightmare down the road.
The question we were afraid to ask was whether our decision would have been different had the supplier told us about the problem before we discovered it. What would have taken on more “ethical weight”; our desire to avoid repeating the selection process by allowing the supplier to “fix” their problem or keeping to the spirit of the company’s values and the code of conduct?
What would you do?