How to get real value from ethical dilemmas

  • 27 May 2015

Many insurance firms have corporate values, promoted to staff and consumers to give insight into ‘who we are’ and ‘how we do things round here’. And that’s great, but left like that, they’re of limited value. So firms often organise events in support of a particular value, so that employees and customers get to see what it’s like ‘living that value’. And that’s great too, but still not enough. Something more tangible is needed.

Employees come to work with a whole set of personal values and often embark on professional training, adding in professional values into the mix as well. It would of course be great if each of those three sets of values (corporate, personal and professional) were aligned and pulling in the same direction. That’s not always the case though: at some point in their career, employees often experience a clash between one value (say a corporate one like teamwork) and another (say a professional one like transparency). In this example, it boils down to a tension between loyalty and truthfulness.

Practical Experience

So for a firm to have its employees ‘live its values’, it not only has to organise events to emphasise values like teamwork, but also give them some practical experience of handling values in tension. That’s what ethical dilemmas are there to deliver. They deal with work based situations in which the choice facing an employee is complicated by two values being in tension. Reconciling that tension is an important skill and training people in how to do it is a vital ingredient to managing your firm’s reputation.

How vital is it though, given all the other things people need to be trained in? Well, surveys continue to show that insurers are still less trusted than banks: if you want that to change, being better at handling ethical dilemmas will help. And remember, most misconduct in corporate settings is not down to bad people doing bad things, but down to good people making bad choices. In other words, good people are not handling the real life ethical dilemmas they’re facing well enough.

Making Better Decisions

So give your people some help in making better decisions. Adult learners respond well to training with ethical dilemmas because they’re built around practical situations and allow people to use their work experience and professional training to resolve them. And ethical dilemmas work for firms, who can build them around their particular business needs.

Now you may think of ethical dilemmas as being based around the individual. They needn’t be: having a team work through them together can be a useful way to get people to talk in pretty realistic terms about what it’s like at that firm to handle such tensions around ‘the right thing to do’. And such conversations open up a useful window into your firm’s ethical culture, shining a light onto ‘what it takes to get things done round here’.

Tackling Hurdles

From such conversations can emerge real insight into the hurdles that employees face in making decisions that really do support a set of values. Tackling those hurdles is a key part of what ethical leadership really amounts to.

So in considering the use of ethical dilemmas in learning and development, remember to think about the ethical issues that need addressing most, and about how you can use them to make it more easy for your employees to make ‘better decisions’ in the future.