The opposite of ethics!

Just as ethics can shape the process and the outcome, the same awareness of outcome and its differentials can be used to design, structure and deliver unethical outcomes that no amount of ethical interaction can assuage. Where the opposite of ethics, and not the absence of sensitivity to ethics, has shaped an outcome, we need to rethink our approach to the ethical solution.

I was just reading “Creating an ethical framework for the financial services industry” by Professor Julia Black, London School of Economics & Karen Anderson, partner, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. One of its questions was “How should firms and regulators go about instilling an ethical culture?”.  I was not convinced that the heart of the matter had been considered.

If ethics concerns itself with the unfairness/inefficiency of imperfect outcomes, and, by virtue of imperfection, if we can deconstruct the unethical outcome and construct the ethical, then the opposite of ethics is the complicit, intentional, logical, knowing construction of an imperfect outcome.  

The gap between the two is the additional return to one factor to the detriment of the others from unethical conduct.   Ethics, and any deviation from an ethical outcome, can be defined and structured in the processes defining outcomes.   There are no shades of grey, only areas whose relationships we have not fully mapped out, but these relationships and dynamics exist.  Most ethical discussion ignores the importance of these grey areas in defining the ethical construct by presuming that ethics, or its opposite, is a structure that envelopes a process as opposed to a set of factors that defines the process and the outcome.

Unfortunately in today’s world we act is if unfair outcomes are the result of omission and insensitivity, rather than intent and awareness of the differentials impacting sensitivity.  

I believe that we need to change our view of how ethics should be formed, structured and managed within our organisations, because at the moment ethics appears to be divorced from the fundamental business process when in fact it should be one and the same.  Ethics start at the design and costing stage of service and product and evolve through the sale and marketing and management of the company.

And back to the question: “How should firms and regulators go about instilling an ethical culture?”

Well, I felt the discussion failed to properly identify just what the ethical construct is and from where it should come?   Every point in the chain has an ethical interaction, but the foundation comes from the deep detail, design and structure.  The perspective of process that defines its input also argues that ethics is a hierarchy and the integrity of the hierarchy impacts the ethical whole of an organisation.  Not everyone has the insight and input to shape the primary ethical foundation of a process, but each has a role in defining their own ethical interaction.  At the moment we seem to be stuck at the ethical interaction with the process without acknowledging the ethics of the process itself.

Importantly, just as ethics can shape the process and the outcome, the same awareness of outcome and its differentials can be used to design, structure and deliver unethical outcomes that no amount of ethical interaction can assuage.   Where the opposite of ethics has shaped an outcome we need to rethink our approach to the ethical solution.

Leave a Reply