Unlearning Ethics, 2nd in series

Premise:  Unlearning is a process of omission whereby knowledge is forgotten, lost or diluted from the organization. Without sharing stories (case studies) from the past, the consequences of re-learning ethical decision making are costly.

Main Points:

1)  People need help making good decisions when personal agendas are involved;

2)  Don’t assume people are good stewards of the business/brand/reputation;

3)  Someone from HR, Legal or Senior Management needs to tell the stories of bad decisions so people can learn.

(Click image to download PDF)

Facebook is in a real mess, and the leak of Andrew Bosworth’s memo didn’t help.  “Boz”, as he’s called, is the Director of Engineering and touts his Harvard roots on his personal web site. He is a smart and accomplished person.  At age 34 he wrote to his employees that in the pursuit of growth “questionable practices” may be employed.  These very practices of data harvesting have thrown Facebook into the middle of the privacy maelstrom and started a stock meltdown.

Let’s use a simple working definition of ethics as “fair and honest dealings;” transactions that would be defensible in court. In this case, we don’t even need to use Mike Rion’s more elegant ‘equitable stakeholder approach.’  The fact that Boz referred to their process as “questionable” shows that he knew there was an issue but decided that the reward was worth the risk.  Pursuing personal agendas can allow for short cuts which eventually get justified and rationalized…until things go wrong and the business is left holding the bag.  How do you manage the risk of people who are choosing unfair and dishonest dealings?  You make ‘teaching about consequences’ through case studies a regular part of staff meetings; Legal, HR and Senior Management must share their experiences.

How about the sales people in the Middle East who truly understood the importance of fairly representing their product’s specifications, but their managers were being hired from companies with a track-record of misrepresenting products?  This is forced unlearning in action, a real HR fail.  When I was entering the workforce one of my first lessons was, “people don’t do what’s expected, they do what’s inspected.”  Without telling the stories they have no way of understanding what wrong decisions look like, and without you looking they soon learn you don’t really care.  Please share your stories with me.  Without stories, there is no learning.

Keep adding Value,

Alden B. Davis

The Corporate Plumber


Workshops that may be helpful:

The Principled Supervisor

Situational Awareness the Safe-ari Way

Group-based Problem Solving


Model Airplane Factory

Building the Presentation Team

Building Financial Knowledge with TheValueTree

Comments are closed.