Ethics in times of crisis


* Author's explanation: I apply the professional contribution ‘Ethics in times of crisis’ to the t.i. the ‘Masks’ affair. I wrote it for one of the recent newsletters of the Manager Association, for running and managing businesses. At the time, they were not yet relevant to the environment about potentially incorrect pressures and systematic irregularities in the protection of protective equipment. But how the same applies to this situation! With minimal adjustments, I made the author's additions, marked in parentheses with * op. so that what has been said also applies to practices in public sector bodies and organizations. Given the specific size, more than usual, the risk of corruption in other types of abuse, even more critical legal entity for the public sector, in relation to public officials and their influence on high-value procurement procedures (not forgetting the role and responsibilities of private companies in their existing or non-existent compliance and integrity programs). More specifically, I will present the typology and warning signs typical of corruption in a separate article, the right in the case of the purchase of protective equipment in the "Mask" affair.

Ethisphere data for the last economic crisis (2008) show that ethical companies in the recession had lower losses and emerged from the crisis sooner and better than other companies (5 Star Leadership Integrity Handbook , 2009, page 6). Ethical companies, according to the methodology of World’s Most Ethical Companies, operate according to the principles of good corporate governance, have orderly and efficient processes, living corporate values and an established system of business compliance and ethics management. Together with the integrity of management, this represents key factors in the strength and resilience of a company (* op: or any other organization or body) even in crisis situations.

However, in times of economic and social turmoil, as we have witnessed due to the corona virus, it will be difficult for companies, bodies and organizations to establish a corporate integrity program. But at the same time, this is a critical moment when it definitely makes sense to install reinforcements of our ethical foundations and pillars. Managers and leaders have a critical role to play in this. The turbulent situation and the present uncertainty can push many people, including our employees, contractors and business partners, into purely self-preservation. In such a case, as a rule, personal benefits outweigh collective ones, and the struggle for personal existence (* op: or war-like predation) can undermine the higher mission and values ​​of the company, the entire community. According to the well-known triangle of deceptions, the element of rationalization, when people will justify their actions in the given circumstances through the urgency and emergency of the situation, will easily push many over the edge. Not to mention the element of motivation or pressure. With the relaxation of control mechanisms, the bending of rules and especially the values ​​that apply in normal conditions, a third element, opportunity, arises. And so the triangle that allows for extremely fertile ground for the emergence of a variety of scams is closed.

It is not a question of the sudden malice and corruption of a large number of people coming to the fore in a crisis ( * op: but also ). It is simply the psychology of survival ( * op: or war-like plunder ), when people become even more primal than ever and focused on more or less recklessly satisfying personal needs, even to the detriment of business ( * note: authority, organization ) and their stakeholders. However, management and leaders ( * op: and supervisors ) can have a significant influence on these factors, and it is actually necessary to do so. Therefore, in a crisis, management ( op .: and supervisory bodies ) should focus on the rapid detection and alleviation of various distresses ( * op .: pressures and opportunities ) of employees, employees and others. , which have an impact on the operation of the company ( * note: bodies and organizations ). In balance with this, we must be aware that all possible urgent omissions of normal procedures and rules, and thus control mechanisms, must be replaced by other forms of control and prevention, so that the company ( * note: authorities and organizations ) and protect their stakeholders ( * op: and public funds ) from abuse.

In this context, the following activities are worth considering for the situation and time:

- Establish clear rules for dealing with emergencies, including user-friendly illustrations, e.g. when working at home as well as on the company's premises during the period of validity of restrictive measures; encouraging the responsibility of employees and also stating in advance the consequences of possible violations ( it is not enough to just refer to the measures taken by the authorities without transferring them to internal acts and procedures in the company's own way ) ;

- Change or limit, if necessary, certain limits, powers; if the effectiveness of responding to the situation requires more centralization of authority and decision-making in your company, be transparent in this regard, argue and announce in advance a later audit for this part of the business;

- In addition to the obvious risks to human health and safety, financial risks, business continuity, etc., assess at least three of the most important risks for you in terms of business compliance and ethics in changed circumstances and take control measures with the help of professional services;

- In various communications to employees and partners who are in a crisis and in a situation of social isolation can not be too much, remind people of your corporate values, tell how your responses and actions relate to them;

- Remind or establish a direct line for professional assistance to your employees and partners also on issues related to compliance with the rules of conduct, and at the same time remind internal and external employees to report any perceived violations or what they notice in the business; ( * note: communicate separately and, if necessary, activate measures for the highest possible protection of whistleblowers );

- Provide on-line training of employees on topics related to the code of ethics, conflicts of interest, corruption risks, protection of personal data and confidential information, if you do not already have it…

More than usual, subject your actions and decisions on critical or important matters to the second or even third opinion of your peers, if possible to an external independent eye. Leaders and managers are also subject to all the described human factors, bearing the greatest burden and thus responsibility. Although we need to make decisions and act in times of crisis, when time is not our best friend, our decisions will be judged later, in different circumstances. Therefore, after the end or attenuation of crisis circumstances, retrospective decision-making is judged according to a higher standard and under more favorable conditions than were available to us (remember the Tom Hanks film ‘Landing on the Hudson River’). In assessing our decisions and the decisions of employees employed on the basis of ethics, we can help ourselves with the following questions for (self) control and (self) reflection:

1. How will a concrete decision or business conduct, including waivers, be assessed after an emergency has ended during a crisis? What would it look like if it was revealed to everyone, including the media?

2. Is the specific decision, conduct or business practice lawful and in accordance with your own rules and procedures (you may also find that you cannot follow certain existing rules and procedures in times of crisis, which you urgently need to change temporarily and communicate immediately) ?

3. Is the concrete decision… in line with the company's values and universal ethical principles (such as honesty, respect, dignity, conscientiousness, courage...)?

4. Am I prepared to take personal responsibility for this decision?

Crisis circumstances reveal many curtains and really demonstrate through the direct response of the company and management what our values really are. Of course, depending on the diversity of our activities and financial foundations, companies and managers will be affected differently by the crisis. In any case, we primarily focus, of course, on being operational at all when increasing work from home, ordering waiting times for work and restrictions on production, logistics, etc. We want to optimize costs as much as possible and try to do what is necessary to keep the work and the organization itself. Yet let us not neglect the ethical lesson. In the absence of tone and action by top management, also in the light of business ethics and compliance, in addition to the obvious and immediate threats of the crisis, the company may be affected by the secondary consequences of degraded integrity.

The described approach not only protects the benefits of the company and its stakeholders, but also gives management a tremendous amount of credibility and genuine personal authority, which we need all the more in times of crisis.


Andrijana Bergant