Skip to content

10 ethical decision rules to bullet-proof business

November 28, 2016

ethics-dan-masonMany years ago I was shocked to learn that ethics is not a mandatory class in most business schools. Surely, if they quantified the cost of ethical lapses like mortgage bundling, Enron, sexual harassment suits, etc. they would see that ethics are about the bottom line? Surely, they could see that a proactive ethical practice can create value? Attract and retain employees?

Apparently, I am an incorrigible optimist.

Recently, I was chatting with a university finance professor who told me he wasn’t sure there would be enough content for an ethics course lasting an entire semester. I  couldn’t believe it so I pressed on a bit. How could he say that when there are PhDs in ethics? He countered that that is more philosophy… not business. Undeterred, I asked him couldn’t ethics be taught along with critical thinking? decision making? value creation for sustainability? He seemed unmoved.

At the heart of the matter is the perception that ethics is just “doing the right thing” or signing a code every year – sometimes more for the protection of the organization than the alignment of behaviours.  Yet ethics are a habit – a systematic assessment of all aspects of your business. They involve self-interest, risk assessment and economic efficiency as much as goodwill. At a minimum, you should find ethical discussions at the board table, at senior management meetings, in human resources, compliance, risk management, and in the public relations department. Shouldn’t there be a common framework that reflects the values of the organization to guide these discussions?

An ethical practice applies to every aspect of business.

In 1995, Larue T. Hosmer[1] synthesized ten decision rules established by the great moral philosophers that – applied in sequence – provide deep insights for organizations. By systematically taking into account the legitimate interests of all stakeholders, you can identify opportunities to build trust in your organization. The analysis does not require funding or elaborate strategies. Just the discipline and the courage to start asking the right questions. Wouldn’t an exploration of these rules along with case studies (the news is full of them) be sufficient for business students?

Ready? Explore Hosmer’s ten ethical principles.

  1. Self-interests (Protagoras). Do your actions in the long-term serve your interests and those of the organization? Where does short-term thinking create pitfalls? Is immediate activity balanced with progress on long-term plans? Does compensation reward short-term performance and long-term accomplishments? Are funds frittered away at the expense of larger long-term investments? What could improve?
  2. Personal virtues (Plato and Aristotle). Are your actions honest, open, and truthful? Are there any actions you wouldn’t want to see reported in the media? Do you report regularly on meaningful metrics? Do you share information freely? Do you encourage constructive feedback? What barriers exist to greater openness with all your stakeholders? How could you overcome them?
  3.  Religious injunctions (St. Augustine). Are your actions kind? How do you treat your employees? Describe your community relations. What actions show kindness to your customers? Can you identify opportunities internally or externally to be kinder? Are there people or communities that need your services that you are not serving? How could this change?
  4. Government requirements (Hobbes and Locke). Are your actions legal? Are you complying with the bare minimum standards or do you strive to meet the full intent of legislation and regulation? Where do you see room for improvement?
  5. Utilitarian benefits (Bentham and Mill). Do your actions result in greater good than harm to society? Do your operations cause harm in any way? Do your actions benefit many or few? How sustainable is your organization? What could you do to enhance wellbeing among employees, customers, communities and other stakeholders
  6. Universal rules (Kant). Would you be willing to see others in a similar situation take the same actions you are taking? Take the perspective of an employee, a customer, a supplier, a partner or a competitor: Do you like how you’re treated? What could change?
  7. Individual rights (Rousseau and Jefferson). Do your actions respect the rights of others? How diverse is your board? Your leadership team and workforce? Are jobs and premises accessible for people with disabilities? Do you respect intellectual property? Where could this improve?
  8. Economic efficiency (Adam Smith). Do your actions maximize profits – within legal and market constraints? Do you take into account external costs? Are employees engaged and eager to find savings and improve processes? Does everyone know how they contribute to results? What impedes maximum efficiency?
  9. Distributive justice (Rawls). Do your actions harm the underprivileged in some way? How are profits and rewards distributed? How are promotions handled? Does your success alleviate or exacerbate inequities? Externally, are some profiting at the expense of others? Does the community benefit from your presence? Where do “fairness gaps” exist? How could they be addressed?
  10. Contributing liberty (Nozick). Do your actions interfere with the rights of others for self-development and self-fulfillment? Are employees being coached to their full potential? What development opportunities do you offer? How do you encourage uniqueness? Creativity? How could your organization contribute to the self-fulfillment of employees, customers, investors, or other stakeholders?

Taking a deep dive on ethics not only builds trust within and beyond an organization, it can create new relationships, engage employees, improve processes, enhance your reputation and spark innovation. Are we only giving lip-service to these critical dimensions of business?

In this era of “post-truth” (I hate to even write that), where we favour fake news rather than real journalism, we need to vastly improve our understanding of ethics and its importance to business. We can start in the class room.

Do you have an example to share? If so, please leave a comment.

[1] Hosmer, L. (1995). TRUST: THE CONNECTING LINK BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONAL THEORY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ETHICS. Academy Of Management Review, 20(2), 379-403. doi:10.5465/AMR.1995.9507312923



Language, leadership and setting norms

October 15, 2016

“High thoughts must have high language” Aristophanes

If this is so, then we are in big, I mean huge, trouble.

I can barely stand to  listen to the news these days because the Presidential race has debased itself so much. I am shocked at how easily news outlets repeat inappropriate language – or people at the water cooler for that matter. It’s so prevalent, people feel brave yelling “F- her in the P-” to female reporters when they are broadcasting. It has become a strange source of pride.

Let’s be clear, it’s not that I’ve never heard bad language or that I am a prude. The reason I am concerned is I believe in the power of words to inform, to persuade and to create emotion. More importantly, I believe that the type of language used and accepted establishes norms around what’s ok to say to people, to think of them and to do to them. It is very well established that action follows language. If I think of you as an “it” or an “other” then I can justify treating you in a way that I would ordinarily find appalling.

So at the same time as people are normalising “p—y” there is backlash on the use of Indigenous slurs for sports team names. So misogyny is ok but racism is not. Can you imagine a presidential candidate using the N-word in 2016? Why don’t we just say no to both?

And, instead of empty hand wringing, diminishing bad language by calling it “locker room talk” or deflecting by saying there are larger issues that need attention, leaders need to call it out and put a stop to it. In the RCMP, in the Canadian and US military, on university campuses, in organisations and families everywhere  we need to denounce language that demeans. Period.

I found this image on It provides a far better conclusion than I could and frankly… I am speechless. We need to alter where we are going and quickly.



Drop the negative. 8 ways to move from can’t to can.

September 18, 2016


People consider the CN Tower climb and say: “I could never do that.” So they don’t try. It’s such an imposing sight they don’t realise that the average climb takes 30-40 minutes. I can tell you that I am no athlete and I’ve done it twice in 24 minutes or so. In fact, the time you spend in line waiting to climb the stairs to the CN tower – or waiting for the elevator down- is likely longer than the time it takes for the actual climb.

So why do challenges loom larger in our minds than they are in reality? This applies to fitness goals but also to projects that we’re dreading or difficult conversations we keep postponing.

How do we overcome that?

Here are 8 ways to move from can’t to can.

  1. Drop the negative. I could never do that.” “I can‘t run that far.” Little changes make a big difference. You can try.
  2. Just start. Invariably, the obstacle in our mind is larger than it is in reality.  As my husband’s favourite Christmas movie song says “Put one foot in front of the other…” Prepare if it helps you feel confident but. just.start.
  3. Look at your barriers.
    • Don’t have time? Hire a sitter, a housekeeper, delegate tasks or reprioritize. Are you watching TV? Then you have time.
    • Don’t have the experience? Volunteer to learn how. Take a free course on line… Google it! Talk to your employer about professional development if it’s a career goal.
    • Don’t have the money? Can you reallocate your budget? Raise money? Barter?Volunteer? Look for a scholarship or free services in your community.
  4.  Establish a system. An article I read in the Huffington Post this week really resonated with me.In  Forget about setting goals. Focus on this instead, James Clear offers great advice about setting up systems to get you to your goal. He suggests that rather than setting, for example a weight loss goal, you establish a system of going to the gym three times a week. You have control over that. In a similar vein you can’t get an A if you don’t study so studying is the system and the grade is the result. Remember that your system is not set in stone. Fine tune it as you go.
  5. Maximize your time. Can you listen to a podcast while you drive or in the shower? Work out with friends so you’re not giving up social time? Get paid while you are learning something? We all have 24 hours in the day. Just like it’s a good idea to eat high value calories – how can you make your time count – for what matters to you?
  6. Tell others. In his book Influence: The Power of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini explains why people don’t like to back away from commitments – especially those they make publicly. Psychologically, we want to be consistent. He also highlights this next point.
  7. Ask for help. No one knows everything – period. Asking for help gets you closer to your objective and is flattering for the person you approach. When someone helps you, even in a small way, they become invested in your success.
  8. List your other successes. Where have you succeeded before? When have you surprised yourself? What are you proud of? Carry that feeling of “I did that” in your heart and apply it to other places in your life.

Carry that feeling of “I did that” in your heamudderellart and apply it to other places in your life.

No one is perfect at this. But you can’t grow without stretching. Trying something new is great for your brain, your self-esteem and it helps develop new relationships. So the next time you look at the CN Tower and someone suggests taking the stairs, lace up!

What’s your next challenge going to be? Write a book? Run for office? Speak in public? Run a 5K or more? Go back to school? I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s me this summer at Mudderella. Not my natural environment but I did it and loved it. I met a new group of women. I was inspired by the strength and courage of many women around me and it only took a few hours. Now that’s a good investment. And we’re definitely doing that again.

To quote Ricky Martin: “Nothing can hold you back if you really want it.
I see it in your eyes. You want the cup of life. Now that the day is here
Gotta go and get it… Here we go: Allez, allez allez!”



Enough with the rampant sexism…please

September 8, 2016

I want to know: is there one sector where we don’t find rampant sexism? When is this going to stop? Who’s going to show leadership in the boardroom, the classroom and everywhere in between?

I really don’t have to write anything. Just scan the headlines:

Those are mostly stories of women doing their jobs. Sometimes we’re just walking around, travelling, attending class. There are stories about a woman assaulted while sleeping on a plane and the many,  many stories about sexual assaults in cities. Too many to list so but here’s just one: Edmonton wants a safer city for women; police still searching for assault suspect. You can find your own version in a city near you – Burnaby, Toronto, Ottawa. Not to leave out the hundreds of Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women.

When will 50% of the population be treated with the dignity it deserves? First – and most importantly – because we are humans. We are your mothers and sisters. We are half the work force and, often, more than half of consumers.


Why I shower with TED

August 26, 2016

shower headI bet that headline got my husband’s attention – if only because he often reminds me to please turn the volume down on the radio in the en-suite. I’ve taken to listening to TED Talks and Podcasts in the shower and I need the volume cranked up HIGH.


TED Talks and podcasts are a great way to get a quick hit of information or inspiration as I start my day and, at worst, give me fodder for conversation.

I can choose something to help me research a project or to work on my business. I can choose something to help me with parenting or just to inspire me. Sometimes I cheat and listen to the podcast instead of reading a business book.

Coming in at around 20 minutes these snippets are the perfect length and, since they are presented by some of the world’s foremost experts, a credible source of information. They also serve as good models for presentation skills: storytelling, use of pauses, illustrative language, using questions… you know the drill.

Here are some of my favourite TED Talks:

Sometimes I cheat on TED and hang out with folks at Stanford Innovation Podcasts. I’m also never disappointed with Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly. His show is a must for marketers and communicators.

You know what they say, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I like to start my day with some seriously smart people. With whom do you recommend I spend some quality time with ?


Art: Instant empathy booster

August 12, 2016
tags: ,

I am currently working on a project about art and its impact on community belonging – one of the most significant determinants of well-being.

That’s how I came across a book called Gifts of the Muse* which explores the personal and social benefits of exposure to – and participation  in- art.

One aspect that intrigued me was the assertion that being exposed to art and literature gives us  different ideas and insights into unfamiliar cultures or contexts. This new knowledge makes us more empathetic. I filed that under “Hmmm…. Interesting.”

Then today I listened to a story titled Gone With A Trace: The story of lost items on the US/Mexico border on CBC’s The Current. It looks at the work of California-based photographer Richard Misrach and composer Guillermo Galindo who are bringing attention to the plight of  thousands of desperate Latin American migrants who scale the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico each year.

These two artists are using everyday objects that are lost or abandoned along the border to create art and, in the case of Guillermo, haunting music. Guillermo uses very sensitive, low frequency microphones to record sounds made by items that have been left behind – often by children. These are items like a Blues Clues backpack, a pair of tiny tennis shoes, a child’s bible, pesos, a ball, etc. It struck me that, through Guillermo,these items gave a voice to these voiceless, possibly missing children.

I started my day thinking about getting my kids to camp and a looming deadline. Thanks to the magic of radio and the power of art I have to say I have an instant boost of empathy for the plight of these unaccompanied children. Quite frankly, I am haunted by what I heard.

I invite you to take 20 minutes to let art enrich your day too.

Don’t have 20 minutes? Take 5 to check out 7 art initiatives that are transforming the lives of refugees. I especially liked the girls reclaiming themselves and their space in Saddam Hussein’s castle in Castle Art.

Has art ever given you deeper understanding of an issue? Has it ever propelled you to act? I’d love to hear your story.


*McCarthy, K. et al. (2004) Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the debate about the benefits of the arts, Rand Corporation, 125p.

Taking the civil out of civilisation?

July 30, 2016

I love words. I love the history of words and discovering new things about them. For example, when I realised that “benediction” literally means to give a good word it completely shifted the context of benediction from something we receive at church to a blessing we can all extend.

This week’s “a-ha moment” came when I was listening  to former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s 2014 CBC Massey Lectures, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship. Since 1961, the Lectures invite a leading thinker to prepare five one-hour essays on a given topic. These are then presented in five Canadian cities, broadcast on radio and published for posterity — and further deep thought.


Can you have civilisation without civility?

Massey Lectures are extraordinarily well researched and presented simply and thoughtfully. They provide five hours of rich, challenging ideas presented without slides, gimmicks or drama . They offer a refreshing change from the endless bombardment of Twitter’s 140 characters, a quick TedTalk or the constant pulse altering drums and dizzying graphics of the 24-hour news channels. The Massey  Lectures are a buffet of rich food for thought that is to be savoured. It is the antithesis of sound-bite junk food for the mind.

So it was during Adrienne Clarkson’s third lecture: “The Cosmopolitan Ethic” that I found my recent epiphany. She said:

The whole function and idea of democracy lies within each of us and our ability to accept and include the Other… We have obligations as citizens not just toward the state and its institutions but toward each other as individuals and as equal citizens. One who does not behave this way betrays his own citizenship.

For us to function as a truly democratic society, we must be civil with with each other and treat each other with the respect that is due. (Adrienne Clarkson, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, House of Anansi Press – emphasis mine)

Whoa… hold the phone. Is Donald Trump, with his complete lack of civility actually undermining civilisation? YES! 

The Presidential candidate has said he will exclude all Muslims from his country. He has called Mexicans “rapists” and often ridiculed women for their gender or appearance. He has labelled an endless stream of people, including senators, governors and journalists as “losers” and repeatedly called his opponent a criminal*. This is not civility. This is not acceptance and inclusion of the Other. This is not “sticks and stones” stuff. The names will hurt me because this behaviour erodes trust and democracy – no matter who does it. This is shutting down voices in the debate by not focusing on policy and ideas but on distractions and personal attacks.

As a Canadian, I am not at all involved in the American Presidential election but, like most people in the Western World, if not the globe, the antics of this presidential campaign are impossible to avoid. As a student of trust, I know nothing good comes from candidates tearing each other to shreds during a campaign and then turning around to say “trust me.” There is nothing to inspire confidence from people, other nations or financial markets when people behave this way.

Looks like Mom was right. You’d better mind your manners because bad things happen when you take the “civil” out of civil society and civilisation.

*The New York Times compiled an extensive NYT list of Trump insults of the 250 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy.  I hesitate to share it because it just brings us deeper into the muck but I wanted to illustrate the point.

%d bloggers like this: