March 27, 2018


Opalyn is getting close to finishing her degree in accounting from Eastern Oregon University, and one of the classes she took last quarter was on business ethics. As part of the course work, students were asked to look at a given organization and consider how it measured up in certain ways. She passed the questions on to me, and asked me how I would respond. I hope you find the questions and responses of interest.

1. How are organizational leaders perceived in terms of their integrity? Is ethics part of the leadership agenda?

The key metric involves whether what a leader says is consistent with what they do. This is embodied in one of the three core organizational guidelines; "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." While no one has a perfect correlation between what they say and what they do, when the gap becomes noticeable, the leader loses the ability to inspire trust. Without trust, the creativity and resilience of the organization crumbles.

2. How are ethics-related behaviors modeled by organizational leaders?

A key way is through transparency. For example, all fiduciary officers submit detailed expense reports that are copied to all other fiduciary officers.

Another way is by leading by example by taking turns doing group tasks such as cooking lunch for the community.

3. Are workers at all levels encouraged to take responsibility for the consequences of their behavior? To question authority when they are asked to do something that they consider to be wrong? How?

This question presupposes that there's agreement on what actions are wrongful. The process of creating a consensus on what's right has to come before undertaking to question whether those placed in authority are doing something that's wrong. It's also important to question authority from a place of curiosity in an effort to understand what the person in authority is seeing that someone who's dealing with only a subset of the issues in play is seeing.

4. Does a formal code of ethics and/or values exist? Is it distributed? How widely? Is it used? Is it reinforced in other formal systems, such as reward and decision-making systems?

Authority figures are encouraged to clearly state the ethical principles that guide them, thereby allowing others to decide whether that person is acting in accordance with their ethics. For example, my personal ethics flow from three principles:

Having these ethical principles explicitly laid out enables other to decide for themselves whether the individual is acting with personal integrity, and therefore warrants their trust.

5. Are whistle-blowers encouraged, and are formal channels available for them to make their concerns known confidentially?

Yes. Any member can bring a motion before the board. On the other hand, a failure to build consensus for the motion will usually ensure that the motion lacks the level of support needed to affect change.

6. Is misconduct disciplined swiftly and justly in the organization, no matter what the organizational level?

Our organization's bylaws allow for the termination of any member, no matter how senior, who engages in acts inimical to the welfare of the organization. Our organizational history offers examples of police reports filed against Directors who violated their fiduciary duties and converted organizational funds to their personal benefit.

7. Are people of integrity promoted? Are means as well as ends important?

The focus of our organizational work is to research, develop and demonstrate sustainable systems. A core characteristic of a sustainable system is that it doesn't have an end; consequently, means are all we have to work with. Those who create sustainable relationships and practices garner trust and thereby the willingness of others to support their proposals. This is critical because in our organization, promotion is a bottom-up process based on how many people trust you to be truthful, competent and committed.

8. Is integrity emphasized to recruits and new employees?

No, because we're recruiting from a culture that does not value integrity. Our practice is to model a culture based on transparency and integrity, and to retain the recruits that respond to that model.

9. Are managers oriented to the values of the organization in orientation programs? Are they trained in ethical decision making?

This issue is central to the creation of sustainable systems that function within the context of the natural world. Accordingly, a core part of what we do involves an ongoing effort expand our understanding of how nature works, and how we must interface with nature in order to create sustainable systems.

10. Are ethical considerations a routine part of planning and policy meetings, new venture reports? Is the language of ethics taught and used? Does a formal committee exist high in the organization for considering ethical issues?

Our organization deals first hand with natural systems which exact a notable penalty for behavior that is unethical, uninformed or inconsistent, thereby creating an ongoing need for ensuring that our plans and policies conform to reality.