Get answers to your most pressing business ethics-related questions.

Expanding on our mission to curate and distill ethics research for the business community, Ethical Systems has launched a new initiative soliciting questions to submit to one of our esteemed collaborators.

Selected questions and answers will be featured here and in the subsequent month's newsletter. Use the form below to submit your questions and explore our schedule of experts and previous Q&A's below.

Month Collaborator Title, Research and Work Selected Questions
and Answers
June 2017

Dave Mayer

Coming in June!
May 2017

Max Bazerman

  • Straus Professor at the Harvard Business School and the Co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School
  • Ethical Systems Interview
  • ES blog mentions
  • Author of Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It.

Q1. I work at a mid-size manufacturing company and one of my co-workers in sales consistently promises early deliveries to our customers.  I worry that my operations team cannot meet the client's expectations. How can I make my co-worker understand that he is over-promising about our capabilities? I worry that this will lead to undue pressure on the team, with potentially bad consequences for the company.

A1. There are multiple possible explanations for your co-workers behavior.  When salespeople aren’t doing what others in the organization think they should be doing, I find it useful to look at what they are being rewarded to do. So, often, organizations create systems that encourage one behavior and hope for a different behavior. So, I would look at what happens in your organization when a salesperson books a sale, with promises that will not be met. Are they rewarded for that behavior?

Perhaps the broader group should meet to discuss problems associated with meeting promises that are made to customers.  I wonder whether your co-worker even understands the issues that s/he is creating? Finally, if these systemic approaches are not effective or viable, I think that the manager needs to confront this difficult conversation, preferably soon than later.  Too often, humans avoid conflict, even when avoiding the conflict will only make the challenges tougher.


Q2. I can’t stand my company. They are some of the most unethical people I have ever encountered and it is only a matter of time before we are in the media for ethical lapses. If I move to a different company, will I be tainted by scandal if I leave after the story breaks?

A2. First, I think you should assess whether these ethical lapses deal with important and illegal activity.  If so, I strongly suggest that you get legal advice.  There are a number of not-for-profit organizations that help people who are caught in difficult ethical/legal situations.  One I have used and recommend is the Government Accountability Project - Given the magnitude of the problems that you are describing, I think that all employees who are aware are accountable for what is happening.You ask whether you might be tainted by the scandal if it reaches the media. I would encourage you to think about whether you are partially responsible if you take no action. The answer to this question might guide you on your next steps.


Q3. I feel like my annual ethics training is a waste of time. I know how I will react and I know I am ethical. Can you tell me why I still need training? If you write me a note, can I get out of it?

A3. Based on the information that you provide, I have neither the authority nor the inclination to write you a note to get out of the training.

Thus, I encourage you to take the training, and to think about the experience more ethnographically and positively.  I would encourage you to think about what form of training would be more useful.  I would recommend being clear and systematic in this assessment.  Perhaps get some of your fellow employees to join your assessment. Then, provide human resources a positive plan about how the company can more effectively create an ethical organization.