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Ethical Decision Making Process (Part 05)
Chandan Roy
Student of MBA (Major in Human Resource Management) Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University Dinajpur, Bangladesh. 
By Chandan Roy
Published on 18 January 2013
Ethical Decision Making Framework developed by Santa Clara University, Simplified model of Ethical Decision-Making Process, Rational Ethical Decision-Making Process  in Business and Ethical Decision Making Process developed by Ferrell

Ethical Decision Making Process
We all make decisions of varying importance every day, so the idea that decision making can be a rather sophisticated art may at first seem strange. However, studies have shown that most people are much poorer at decision making than they think. An understanding of what decision making involves, together with a few effective techniques, will help produce better decisions.

Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is absolutely essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific steps. Ethical Decision making process is developed by different writer and organization by different ways. Some of them are discussed below;

A. Ethical Decision Making Framework developed by Santa Clara University
The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives of others, can we make good ethical choices in such situations

Following framework for ethical decision making a useful method for exploring ethical dilemmas and identifying ethical courses of action-

Recognize an Ethical Issue
a.    Could this decision or situation be damaging to someone or to some group? Does this decision involve a choice between a good and bad alternative, or perhaps between two "goods" or between two "bads"?
b.    Is this issue about more than what is legal or what is most efficient? If so, how?

Get the Facts
a)    What are the relevant facts of the case? What facts are not known? Can I learn more about the situation? Do I know enough to make a decision?
b)    What individuals and groups have an important stake in the outcome? Are some concerns more important? Why?
c)    What are the options for acting? Have all the relevant persons and groups been consulted? Have I identified creative options?

Evaluate Alternative Actions
a)    Utilitarian Approach - which action results in the most good and least harm?
b)    Rights Based Approach - which action respects the rights of everyone involved?
c)    Fairness or Justice Approach- which action treats people fairly?
d)    Common Good Approach - which action contributes most to the quality of life of the people affected?
e)    Virtue Approach - which action embodies the character strengths you value?

Make a Decision and Test It
a)    Considering all these approaches, which option best addresses the situation?
b)    If I told someone I respect-or told a television audience-which option I have chosen, what would they say?

Act and Reflect on the Outcome
a)    How can my decision be implemented with the greatest care and attention to the concerns of all stakeholders?
b)    How did my decision turn out and what have I learned from this specific situation?

B. Simplified model of Ethical Decision-Making Process
There are many approaches, processes, and models used to discuss ethical problems.  This 8-step Ethical Decision-Making Process Model is a comprehensive method that can be used to systematically address ethical issues. 
1.    Identify the question being discussed, and describe why it is an ethical problem.
2.    Identify and list any stakeholders who may be affected by the problem.
3.    List the people who could be involved in selecting a course of action or in assisting or influencing the stakeholders in selecting a course of action.
4.    Describe possible courses of action. Include possibilities that are obvious, subtle, and “off-the-wall”, even ones that might have obstacles.  Think along a continuum of possibilities, not just in an “either-or” mode.
5.    Use a decision making chart to describe the benefits (pros) and risks (cons) of each course of action.
6.    Identify the ethical principles and values that support each course of action. 
7.    Rank-order the ethical principles and values according to their importance to you.
8.    Identify your choice for the best course of action.  Support your choice by using your rank order of the ethical principles and values to explain the reasons for your choice.  Your reasons may also include a discussion of the benefits and risks related to your choice.

C. Rational Ethical Decision-Making Process  in Business
Ethical decision making should be a collaborative process between client and counselor, rather than a counselor making decisions for the client. Below are the steps, with suggested questions, to assist you in thinking through an ethical dilemma. This is one of several decision-making models which can be utilized. The steps taken may not always follow the same order shown and steps may be repeated several times in the process.

Identify the problem or dilemma
Identify the potential issues involved
Review the relevant ethical codes
Know the applicable laws and regulations
Obtain consultation
Consider possible and probable courses of action
Enumerate the consequences of various decisions
Decide on what appears to be the best course of action

A.    Identify the problem or dilemma.
Being ethical does not always mean following the law. And just because something is possible doesn't mean it is ethical, hence the global debates about bio-technology advances such as cloning. And ethics and religion do not always concur. To identify the ethical problem just think-
a.    Does a problem or dilemma actually exist?
b.    Is this an ethical, legal, moral, professional, or clinical problem?
c.    Is it a combination of more than one of these?
d.    How can you know the nature of the problem?
e.    Would you consult at this early stage as you are identifying the problem?
f.    How might you begin the process of consultation with your client about the nature of the problem?

B. Identify the potential issues involved
a.    How might you best evaluate the rights, responsibilities, and welfare of all those involved and
b.    Those who are affected by the decision, including your own welfare as a practitioner?
c.    How can you best promote your client's independence and self-determination?
d.    What actions have the least chance of bringing harm to your client?
e.    What decision will best safeguard the client's welfare?
f.    How can you create a trusting and collaborative climate where your clients can find their own answers?
g.    What principles can you use in prioritizing the potential issues involved in this situation?
h.    Are there any ways to encourage the client to participate in identifying and determining potential ethical issues?

C. Review the relevant ethical codes
a.    What guidance can you find on the specific problem under review by consulting with the professional codes?
b.    Are your values in agreement with the specific ethical code in question?
c.    How clear and specific are the codes on the specific area under consideration?
d.    Are the codes consistent with applicable state laws?

D. Know the applicable laws and regulations
a.    Are there any laws or regulations that have a bearing on the situation under consideration?
b.    What are the specific and relevant state and federal laws that apply to the ethical dilemma?
c.    What are the rules, regulations, and policies of the agency or institution where you work?

E. Obtain consultation.
a.    Do you know where to go to obtain consultation with professionals who are knowledgeable about ethical issues?
b.    Assuming that you will consult with a colleague or a supervisor, what would you expect from this consultation?
c.    What kinds of questions do you want to ask of those with whom you consult?
d.    With whom do you seek consultation? Do you consult only with those who share your orientation, or do you look for consultants with different perspectives?
e.    How can you use the consultation process as an opportunity to test the justification of a course of action you are inclined to take?
f.    What kinds of information do you document when you consult?
g.    When you do make use of a consultation process, do you inform your client about this? Are there any ways you might include the client in this consultation process?

F. Consider possible and probable courses of action
There are different ethical approaches which may help to make the most ethical decision.
a.    Utilitarian Approach - which action results in the most good and least harm?
b.    Rights Based Approach - which action respects the rights of everyone involved?
c.    Fairness or Justice Approach- which action treats people fairly?
d.    Common Good Approach - which action contributes most to the quality of life of the people affected?
e.    Virtue Approach - which action embodies the character strengths you value?

G. Enumerate the consequences of various decisions
a)    How can you best evaluate the potential consequences of each course of action, before implementing a particular action plan?
b)    Are you willing to involve your client in the discussion of the implications of each course of action for the client?
c)    What ethical principles can you use as a framework for evaluating the consequences of a given course of action?
d)    Examine the consequences of various decisions for your client, for you as counselor, and for the profession in general.

H. Decide on what appears to be the best course of action
a)    After carefully considering all the information you have gathered, how do you know what seems to be the best action to take?
b)    Do you solicit the input of your client in making this decision at this phase?
c)    Once you have formulated a plan of action, do you ask for feedback from a colleague or supervisor?
d)    Once the course of action has been implemented, what are some ways that you might evaluate the course of action?
e)    Are you willing to follow up to determine the outcomes and see if further action is necessary?

D. Ethical Decision Making Process developed by Ferrell:
Decision making can be hard enough but when we have to consider ethics and decision making we can tie ourselves up so tight we stop making decisions entirely. Here is a short guide to help decision makers through the ethics maze and make effective decisions. As Figure below shows a model of the ethical decision making process in business includes ethical issue intensity, individual factors such as individual moral philosophy, organizational factors such as corporate culture, and opportunity. These factors are interrelated and all influence the evaluations of and intentions behind decisions that produce ethical or unethical behavior.  

Ethical Issues Intensity:
Ethical issue intensity can be defined as the relevance or importance of an ethical issue in the eyes of the individual, work group, and/or organization. It is personal and temporal in character to accommodate values, beliefs, needs, perceptions, the special characteristics of the situation, and the personal pressures prevailing at a particular place and time.
Ethical issue intensity reflects the ethical sensitivity of the individual or work group that faces the ethical decision-making process. Research suggests that individuals are subject to six “spheres of influence” when confronted with ethical choices---- the work place, family, religion, legal system, community, and profession---- and that the level of importance of each of these influences will vary depending on how important the decision maker perceives the issue to be.

Individual Factors:
When people need to resolve ethical issues in their daily lives, they often base their decisions on their own values and principles of right or wrong. People generally learn these values and principles through the socialization process with family members, social groups, church, and in their formal education. They appear to operate in their own self-interest or in total disregard of the law and interests of the society. In the workplace, personal ethical issues typically involve honesty, conflicts of interest, discrimination, nepotism, and theft of organizational resources.

Organizational Factors:
Research has established that in the workplace, the organization’s values often have greater influence on decisions than do a person’s own values. Ethical choices in business are most often made jointly, in work groups and committees, or in conversations and discussions with coworkers. Employees approach ethical issues not only on the basis of what they learned from their own organization but also on the basis of what they learned from others in the organization. Also an organization’s corporate cultures influence the decision makers differently.

A corporate culture can be defined as a set of values, beliefs, goals, norms, and ways of solving problems those members (employees) of an organization share. As time passes, stakeholders come to view the company or organization as a living organism, with a mind and will of its own.

An important element of corporate culture is the company’s ethical climate.  Whereas corporate culture involves values and rules that prescribe a wide range of behavior of for organizational members, the ethical climate reflects whether the firm also has an ethical conscience. Thus, the ethical climate of a corporation’s culture can be thought of as the character or decision processes employees use to determine whether their responses to ethical issues are right or wrong.

Opportunity describes the conditions in an organization that limit or permit ethical or unethical behavior. Opportunity results from conditions that either provide rewards, whether internal or external, or fail to erect to barriers against unethical behavior. Examples of internal rewards include feeling of goodness and personal worth generated by performing altruistic acts. External rewards refer to what an individual expects to receive from others in the social environment.

Opportunity relates to individuals’ immediate job context - what they work, whom they work with, and the nature of the work. The immediate job context includes the motivational carrots and sticks that supervisors use to influence employee behavior. The opportunity employees have for the unethical behavior in an organization can be eliminated through formal codes, policies, and the rules that are adequately enforced by management. These factors must be carefully analyzed in the ethical decision making process.

Business Ethics Evaluation and Intentions:
Ethical dilemmas involve problem-solving situations in which decision rules are often vague or in conflict. The results of an ethical decision are often uncertain; no one can always tell us whether we have made the right decision. There are no magic formulas, nor is there computer software that ethical dilemmas can be plugged into for a solution.

Ethical or Unethical Behavior:
An individual’s intentions and the final decision regarding what action he or she will take the last steps in the ethical decision are making process. When the individual’s intentions and behaviors are inconsistent with his or her ethical judgment, the person may feel guilty. Ethical decisions makers must also sincere which approach give a consistent and effective result of making decision.


In our complex global business climate, ethical decision making is rarely easy. However, as a business owner, you have several models available for analyzing your ethical dilemmas. Sometimes one approach will be more appropriate than another. If you take time to consider the various possibilities, you are more likely to make a decision you believe is ethically correct.

Problem solving and decision-making are important skills for business and life. Problem-solving often involves decision-making, and decision-making is especially important for management and leadership. There are processes and techniques to improve decision-making and the quality of decisions. Decision-making is more natural to certain personalities, so these people should focus more on improving the quality of their decisions. People that are less natural decision-makers are often able to make quality assessments, but then need to be more decisive in acting upon the assessments made. Problem-solving and decision-making are closely linked, and each requires creativity in identifying and developing options. SWOT  analysis helps assess the strength of a company, a business proposition or idea; PEST analysis helps to assess the potential and suitability of a market. Good decision-making requires a mixture of skills: creative development and identification of options, clarity of judgments, firmness of decision, and effective implementation.

Ethics is important not only in business but in all aspects of life because it is the vital part and the foundation on which the society is build. A business/society that lacks ethical principles is bound to fail sooner or later. According to International Ethical Business Registry, "there has been a dramatic increase in the ethical expectation of businesses and professionals over the past 10 years. Increasingly, customers, clients and employees are deliberately seeking out those who define the basic ground, rules of their operations on a day today...."

Ethics is related to all disciplines of management like accounting information, human resource management, sales and marketing, production, intellectual property knowledge and skill, international business and economic system.

The ethical issues in business have become more complicated because of the global and diversified nature of many large corporation and because of the complexity of economic, social, global, natural, political, legal and government regulations and environment, hence the company must decide whether to adhere to constant ethical principles or to adjust to domestic standards and culture.

Managers have to remember that leading by example is the first step in fostering a culture of ethical behavior in the companies as rightly said by Robert Noyce, "If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization", however the other methods can be creating a common interest by favorable corporate culture, setting high standards, norms, framing attitudes for acceptable behavior, making written code of ethics implicable at all levels from top to bottom, deciding the policies for recruiting, selecting, training, induction, promotion, monetary / non-monetary motivation, remuneration and retention of employees. "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get" - Warren Buffet

Thus, a manager should treat his employees, customers, shareholders, government, media and society in an honest and fair way by knowing the difference between right or wrong and choosing what is right, this is the foundation of ethical decision making. REMEMBER: GOOD ETHICS IS GOOD BUSINESS. "Non-corporation with the evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good" - Mahatma Gandhi.


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