Ethics Filters

May 29, 2009

Until now we have been discussing a generic decision model similar to those taught in every business school and management training program. But our concern is not just decision making; it is ethical decision making.

The ethical component of the decision making process takes the form of a set of "filters". Their purpose is to separate the sought after elements from their containing environment.

At key steps in the process the decision maker can stop and run his/her considerations through these filters and thereby separate the ethical conations from the remainder of the decision. This ensures that the ethical issues imbedded in the decision can be given consideration.

In their academic form, the language for these filters is too complex and academic for most employees. In simplifying the process we risked losing some of the finer points but dramatically increased the utility of the ethics filters process.

To make it easy to understand and apply these ethics filters we have adapted to mnemonic word PLUS.

  • P = Policies
    Is it consistent with my organization's policies, procedures and guidelines?
  • L= Legal
    Is it acceptable under the applicable laws and regulations?
  • U = Universal
    Does it conform to the universal principles/values my organization has adopted?
  • S= Self
    Does it satisfy my personal definition of right, good and fair?

PLUS presumes effective communication with all employees so there is a common understanding of:

  • the organization's policies and procedures as they apply to the situation.
  • the applicable laws and regulations.
  • the agreed to set of "universal" values - in this case Empathy, Patience, Integrity, Courage (EPIC)
  • the individual's sense of right, fair and good springing from their personal values set.

PLUS also presumes a formal mechanism, provided by the organization, to allow employees access to a definitive interpretation of the policies, laws and universal values when their own knowledge of these PLUS factors is insufficient for them to make the decision with a high level of confidence.

The PLUS filters work as an integral part of steps 1, 3 and 6 of the decision making process. The decision maker applies the four PLUS filters to determine if the ethical component(s) of the decision are being surfaced/addressed/satisfied.

  • Step 1
    • Define the problem (PLUS surface the ethical issues)
    • Does the existing situation violate any of the PLUS considerations?
  • Step 2
    • Identify available alternative solutions to the problem
  • Step 3
    • Evaluate the identified alternatives (PLUS assess their ethical impact)
    • Will the alternative I am considering resolve the PLUS violations?
    • Will the alternative being considered create any new PLUS considerations?
    • Are the ethical trade-offs acceptable?
  • Step 4
    • Make the decision
  • Step 5
    • Implement the decision
  • Step 6
    • Evaluate the decision (PLUS surface any remaining/new ethical issues)
    • Does the resultant situation resolve the earlier PLUS considerations?
    • Are there any new PLUS considerations to be addressed?

The user should realize that the PLUS filters do not guarantee an ethical decision. They merely ensure that the ethical components of the situation will be surfaced so that they might be considered.

While PLUS suggests a process for assessing the ethical impact of a decision, ultimately whether or not the decision meets the ethical standards of the organization or the individual decision maker is a matter of personal responsibility. After all, ethics is about choices.

Next Page: The Ethical Decision Making Job Aid