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Rationalization a destructive behavior toward business ethics

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 17, 2013 11:16PM



Recently in speaking with a CEO, she shared that the last two mandatory meetings with her staff resulted in attendance of 75 percent and 50 percent. She met with those who did not attend and restructured the next mandatory meeting. Her question to me was:

“Do they not understand what mandatory means especially since I have explained it more than once?”

My response was sure they understand, but they have rationalized beyond facts, fear or force.

As an aside, if you are thinking those employees should be terminated, let us not forget that mass termination is costly as is hiring new employees especially in today’s workforce. Forward thinking business leadership must balance many balls to keep their organizations running.

Rationalization plays an important role in ethical behavior. In the book, “Change or Die,” Alan Deutschman shared several real events where people demonstrated unethical behavior. One of those events involved a manufacturing plant in California where daily absenteeism was 50 percent. Management presented:

• Facts of how this excessive absenteeism was hurting the productivity and sales

• Fear if behaviors did not change the plant would shut down

• Force if attendance did not improve people would face termination

The plant did eventually close because people would not change in spite of facts, fear or force. Yes consistent absenteeism is unethical behavior because it reflects more character.

We have all witnessed the rationalization of “well everyone else does it” to justify unethical or questionable behavior. So what if I just told a little white lie or the business won’t miss that tablet, pencil or other stationary items or “I’m just a few minutes late.”

There is an old Jewish proverb that states “a half truth is still a whole lie.”

When we begin to rationalize our behaviors, we start down a hole that quickly can become very deep and one from which we will never escape. Within the mainstream medias (press), some refer to this rationalization as “spinning the news.”

Rationalization quickly leads to compromising our values, our beliefs as demonstrated through our behaviors.

So what do we do? The first action is to be consistently true to our core beliefs that we have written down and have staring at us each day. The second action is to not be afraid of calling out bad behaviors by others in a respectful way. This may mean having a meeting with the person and sharing our thoughts about why he or she made such a decision. Finally, the third action may require us to leave our places of employment or some other organization because we are uncomfortable with the business ethics or lack thereof.

Being true to our business ethics is not easy. Yet if we want to see a more ethical world, we must be that change. I once heard in the television miniseries, “Dinotopia,” “one drop of water will raise the ocean’s level.” We can each be that one drop of water and then imagine how quickly the ethical business tide would rise.

P.S. Shout Out: Daniel Morgan Salon in Hammond and LeRoc Salon & Body Bar in Valparaiso both will get you looking sharp for the holidays.



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