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Warning Signs of Ethical Problems

There are some clear warning signs of impending ethical problems or misconduct, both on an individual and organizational basis.

Those tasked with monitoring the ethical behavior of an enterprise can look for these “red flags” as an indication that misconduct may be occurring.

Warning Signs for Individuals (Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has communicated these warning signs to its employees through its ethics training and ethics code manual. By highlighting the kind of comments that often precede unethical conduct, Lockheed Martin gives its workers a technique to self-regulate: If they hear or say these phrases, they will know that they are in dangerous territory.

Warning Signs

You’re on Thin Ethical Ice When You Hear…

  • “We didn’t have this conversation.”
  • “It sounds too good to be true.”
  • “Shred that document.”
  • “I deserve it.”
  • “We can hide it.”
  • “It’s all for a good cause.”
  • “Well, maybe just this once.”
  • “Everyone does it.”
  • “This will destroy the competition.”
  • “What’s in it for me?”
  • “It’s okay if I don’t gain personally.”
  • “It doesn’t matter how it gets done as long as it gets done.”
  • “No one will ever know.”
  • “No one will get hurt.”
  • “This is a ‘non-meeting.'”

When in Doubt

Lockheed Martin advises its employees if they hear anyone using one of the “thin ethical ice” expressions to ask a series of questions.

  • “Does it comply with Lockheed Martin’s values?”
  • “How will it look to our customer or supplier?”
  • “Is it fair and honest?”
  • “Do I need to ask more questions for a clearer picture?”
  • “Does my supervisor know?”
  • “Do I have valid data that may lead to a different decision?”
  • “Is this really the only solution?”
  • “Are these actions legal?”
  • “Have we considered all the risks?”
  • “How would I feel if my family, friends, and neighbors knew what we were doing?”
  • “Who can help me clarify the options?”
  • “Can I live with this decision?”
  • “Why is this bothering me?”

If you are still not sure what to do, speak up. Keep questioning yourself and others until you are certain you are doing the right thing.

Recommended for you Organizational Ethics

Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented

1. True or false?

An employee justifying their action by saying ‘It’s all for a good cause’ is a warning sign of potential ethical trouble, according to Lockheed Martin.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

Correct. This is a true statement. Lockheed Martin would regard this as an ethical warning sign.

b. False

2. True or false?

Overlooking or not addressing conflicts of interest on an organization’s board is an ethical warning sign, according to Marianne Jennings.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

Correct. This is a true statement. Unaddressed board conflicts of interest are an ethical warning sign.

b. False

Recommended for you Ethics in Practice

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