Ethos, a word of Greek origin, can have two meanings: Customs, and character. According to the dictionary, ethics is a field of philosophy dedicated to investigating the principles that motivate, distort, discipline or guide human behavior.
Much is said about ethics, especially in the professional environment. However, if ethics is the investigation of human behavior, and human behavior is the set of reactions of a dynamic system in the face of interactions, how can we ensure that you and I have the same understanding of acceptable or desirable behavior in the face of an interaction?
Usually, these reactions (behavior) are governed by values which are created or developed based on our experiences. Values can also be influenced by our culture and history instead of our personal experiences.
Can you imagine the spectrum of values that influences behavior and consequently touch ethics in our increasingly globalized world as we interact between different cultures and people?
This is the root cause of ethics’s issues.
Here we will discuss professional ethics based on common sense. There is no room for a discussion of each person’s personal ethics. An article like this is not long enough to discuss the anthropological, philosophical and psychological aspects of both behavior and ethics.
The Supply Chain area, especially Purchasing, is one of the focus areas in regards to ethics. Not by chance, compliance is an aspect of the Purchasing area that is gaining more and more prominence. Certainly, the vast majority of purchasing professionals, who already have a few years of experience in the field, have stories to tell about unethical approaches by internal or external stakeholders. Who has never received a supplier who innocently asks “What can I do to get this business?” or met the salesman who comes with expensive gifts during a bidding process, innocently classified as an “incentive,” to close the deal?
Just one small mistake related to the lack of ethics, dear buyer, can destroy your career. All other types of“professional errors can be tolerated as long as they are dealt with, except for lack of ethics.
During my career, I have had the chance to work with excellent professionals, and among these excellent professionals, at least 4 or 5 were fired because of issues related to unethical practices.
It is interesting to think that all these people were extremely professional and committed. One of them became one of my mentors in a certain company, which contributed to my surprise and shock when I discovered that the person was no longer part of the company’s staff, and that the reason was unethical practices. In another circumstance, I excluded a supplier from a particular bidding process when I received complaints that the company in question used to receive insider information and plan its next actions based on it. The supplying company maintained an informant within the purchasing company who delivered information about the current supplier of an item, the price paid and the main contractual clauses. With this information, the selling company lowered its price and submitted an unsolicited quote to the buying company. At the time, we had a long discussion when I needed to justify why a certain supplier had been excluded from the bidding process. The company I was working for, considered that the unethical practice taking place was on the part of the informant and not the company receiving the information.
The example above reflects the main problem of ethics: the divergence of understanding what is ethical and what is not.
Obviously, this can certainly bring conflicts in both the professional and personal environment.
I once had the opportunity to record an interview about compliance with a renowned professional who had a whole career developed in the area. I remember asking, “How do you define what is ethical and what is not?” She gave me an answer that became my golden rule in relation to compliance: “Being ethical is to do things alone in the same way you would do them if you were being watched by your parents, boss or by someone that you admire.”
When in doubt about whether or not something is ethical, it is worthwhile to rely a little on intuition. Often, we know whether something is right or not deep down.