All decisions in an organisation have an ethical implication–that is, there are always ethical choices

People may need need help to recognise these implications and then how to make the right decision.   

There’s single “best” way to do this.  The starting point is to refer to company codes and compliance rules. But the final choice comes down to judgement and taking personal responsibility for it.

Organisations need a clear decision framework which everyone can adapt to their own purposes. What would such a framework look like? Here are some to consider:


This comprehensive approach helps reveal differences between the OUTCOMES and the CONSEQUENCES of a decision. While they sound identical, they’re actually distinct: 

  • Outcomes: the immediate results of a decision and therefore short term.

  • Consequences: the overall impact of a decision and include longer term implications

In every situation there’s also a choice of whether to make the decision process open and transparent or keep it hidden from prying eyes. Here’s what might have happened had VW used this approach over its decision to cheat on its vehicle emissions.  It is not an insider’s analysis!

Decision mapping at VW2



CISCO offers its many thousands of employees a simple decision tree to help arrive at the right ethical choice:

CISCO Decision Tree


 This company has evolved a simple four step approach to making ethical decisions:

Decision framework2

BAE expects all its employees to understand and use this simple guide.  A vital part of this process is ensuring people discuss what decision is about to be made. 

Blanchard and Peale Approach

Authors of The Power of Ethical Management suggest three simple questions when faced with an ethical dilemma:

Is it legal21 Is it legal
will you be violating any criminal or civil laws, or company policies by making this decision?




Is it balanced2 Is it balanced
is it fair to all parties concerned in both the short and long term; is this a win-win situation for those directly and indirectly involved?




RIGHT WRONG3 Is it right?
how does it make you feel about yourself; are your proud of yourself for making this decision, would you like others to know the decision you made?


Pinnell & Eagan Approach

Before taking action ask:

Family on you shouldersFamily on your shoulder: Would you do it if your family was watching?





Front poge of newspaperFront page of newspaper: Would you like to see it published on the front page of a major newspaper?






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Golden RuleGolden Rule: Would you be happy to be on the receiving end of the decision or action?





UniversalityUniversality: Would it be OK if everyone did it?






  • The decision won’t become habit forming
  • It’s legal
  • It’s safe
  • It’s the right thing to do
  • It’s balanced and fair
  • It it will stand up to close public scrutiny
  • You could your defend your actions if something terrible were to happen If it isn’t, don’t do it.
  • It will make you feel bad about yourself
  • It will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number
  • You would not do this in front of your mother.


1. Have you defined the problem accurately?[spacer height=”20px”]

2. How would you define the problem if you stood on the other side of the fence?[spacer height=”20px”]

3. How did this situation occur in the first place?[spacer height=”20px”]

4. To whom and to what do you give your loyalty as a person and as a member of the organization?[spacer height=”20px”]

5. What is your intention in making this decision?[spacer height=”20px”]

6. How does this intention compare with the probable results?[spacer height=”20px”]

7. Whom could your decision injure?[spacer height=”20px”]

8. Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision?[spacer height=”20px”]

9. Are you confident that your position will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now?[spacer height=”20px”]

10. Could you disclose without qualm your decision or action to your boss, the head of your organization, your colleagues, your family, the person you most admire, or society as a whole?[spacer height=”20px”]

11. What is the symbolic potential of your action if understood? If misunderstood?[spacer height=”20px”]

12. Are there circumstances when you would allow exceptions to your stand? What are they?[spacer height=”20px”]

These 12 questions for examining the ethics of a decision were adapted from the steps formulated by Harvard Business School Professor Laura Nash in her Harvard Business Review article, “Ethics without the Sermon” (1981)


He offers a simple mnemonic to help employees ask the R-I-G-H-T questions:

  • What are the Rules?
  • Are we acting with Integrity?
  • Who is this Good for?
  • Who could we Harm?
  • What’s the Truth?

The best ethical guide is even simpler:

Put yourself into the shoes of others and think through the consequences of your choices.


1)      Framework for ethical decision making. PWC
2)   A Framework for Thinking Ethically, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
3)   R.Steare, Ethicability 2009,