organisational ethics

Matt Beard: Law Firm Could Have Consulted More Staff Before Taking Case

15 March, 2021

Dr Matt Beard, newly appointed Program Director of the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship, talked with The Australian’s Helen Trinca about the role of ethics in the workplace, and how they can guide people and organisations in difficult times. “We can be very firm and convinced in our principles and about why we are doing something, but if we don’t take time to show our work … It’s like maths in high school. You get one mark for a right answer but three marks for showing how you got there.”

When complex ethical issues are involved Matt says, “we want to see how the sausage is made and a lot of times when that doesn’t happen we can wind up with sub-optimal outcomes”.

Referencing the fallout from the exit of MinterEllison’s CEO, and the response to Brittany Higgins’s claims, Matt says: “I come back to the idea of who gets a voice, who gets a vote. We often narrow our decision making to who gets a vote, who needs to sign off and authorise, and those are the people we talk to. What we overlook when we take that approach are the range of people who are going to be affected disproportionately by decisions that we are making even if they don’t have the right to veto them.

“If we don’t get on the front foot and bring those people into the decisions, it is quite likely we will offend or harm someone and it is also likely that we won’t make the best possible decision because those people have important information to provide.”

As Program Director of the Fellowship Matt will be encouraging executives to move away from a mindset that sees ethics as a way of “resolving a series of obstacles, the idea of ethics in a negative way, a bunch of shall nots”. Rather, he think organisations should “think holistically about ethics as a conversation around values, “and what matters and what we should prioritise”.”

“We don’t need to see ethics as a limitation [where] the ethics person or compliance officer are the people who need to say no,” he says. “Sometimes that will be the case but if we think about ethics as being this shared custodianship of the common good and the things that matter to all of us, then talking about ethics becomes a way of creating opportunities and of maximising real value, not just market value.”

Matt told Trinca that the tendency to put ethics and compliance together puts organisations into a legalistic, risk-averse, minimum bar mould and a view that ethics is about the minimum standards we need to meet so “we can continue to make money or continue doing whatever it is that we do”.

“I think that conception of ethics is holding organisations and people who work in institutions back because every one of us wants to feel that we are making the world a better place,” he says.

“We have this idea that we are ethical if we don’t harm our customers — well whoop-de-doo. There is so much more than that.”

Different organisations prioritised different issues in considering ethics but there was a danger that this could exclude other areas. “Some organisations will hang their hat on inclusivity and diversity which is valuable but maybe it also needs commitment to basic labour rights.

“When we make ethics an explicit issue it tends to get bolstered to one kind of cause … instead of seeing it as a particular way of negotiating through the world. We box it off … instead of thinking that every decision is ethically laden.”

The Australian, Helen Trinca, 13 March 2021. Read the full article here

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash