Magazine article Risk Management

The Implications of "Could I?"

Magazine article Risk Management

The Implications of "Could I?"

Article excerpt

Several years ago, ethics became a prominent subject in both the university curriculum and the public stances of political leaders and business executives. For a time, hiring a philosopher to teach ethics as a separate topic in schools of management became a fashion. Ethics was promoted to the rank of a management discipline on par with marketing, production or finances, while risks remained on the back burner with the insurance curriculum. Later, in real life, ethics took different forms and names: sustainable development when the topic was environment, corporate governance when it referred to meeting stockholders' expectations.

Ethics, however, is not only a concept to be taught to philosophy or management students; it is tool. For private entities as well as government authorities, NGOs or health organizations, ethics must be evidenced by decisions and actions inspired by a set of values. Thus, the real challenge is ethics in action.

This is but a moving target. Ethics in action is by nature proactive and in constant evolution. It is the debate between the possible and the desirable. In any given situation, the decision maker must ask "should I?" rather than "could I?"

"Could I?" refers to a technical acknowledgement of the law, sometimes tampering with or bending it; it is an adherence to the letter of the law but not its spirit, and it is the mindset that led many now-infamous business leaders astray. "Should I?" on the other hand, is a much more stringent question, forcing one to consider the consequences of the decision on all stakeholders, in the light of a set o agreed upon values.

The ethical debate turns around the meaning or a sense of direction. As discussed in the Cadbury or the Turnbull reports in the United Kingdom and the two Vienot reports in France, ethics require all executives, indeed any employee to ask: Where are we going? Why and for whom? How?

Where Do We Go from Here?

It has been historically repeated in the economic and political world that the ends justify the means. It becomes clearer everyday, however, that reaching the end (maximization for stockholder value) can no longer justify the use of any means. …

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