Editor’s note: Today’s guest opinion is written by Glenn Conway, vice president of operational effectiveness for Visage Solutions, LLS. “Ethical” management conforms to “professional standards of conduct.” At least this is one of the definitions of ethical in Webster’s Dictionary. We may realize that ethical management is also “professional” management, but what does it really mean?

Does it denote having a system of morals and moral standards?

Does it require operating in conformance with that system of morals and moral standards?

The full definition of “ethical” would require both of these. But conforming to “professional standards of conduct” means acting in accordance with the responsibilities of “professional” leadership. This requires balancing people with task, formal responsibilities with informal expectations, outcomes with processes, and written laws with unwritten norms. From this viewpoint “ethical management” is also “excellent management.”

A justifiable firing?

Let us consider a number of illustrations.

For instance, is it “ethical” to fire an employee who performs unsatisfactorily?

I think most executives would say yes.

But – suppose the employee was given little to no direction, supervision, training, or preparation to do his job prior to being fired. Would it still be “ethical” to fire the employee for poor performance? Probably not, because it would illustrate an unprofessional response to an (unprofessional) lack of direction.

So, the context within which the firing takes place is an important distinction determining whether something is ethical or not.

Not tolerating the lackadaisical

Next question: Is it ethical to tolerate poor performance and lackadaisical attitudes as a general practice within the company?

Is it ethical to tolerate poor performance from any (experienced) manager or employee who has been in his position or with the company for months or years and knows what is expected of him?

I suggest that the definition of ethical management makes it unethical to tolerate poor performance.

Consider: Profitable, well-run companies with good cash flow reward their investors, pay off debts, and provide employment opportunities and some degree of longevity for their staff. This is the objective of professional management – to deliver sustained, successful business. High-quality performance of all staff is integral to excellent operations, and the greatest chance of company success and continuity.

To allow poor performance is to allow or encourage underachievement that decreases organizational success and opportunity. Further, tolerating poor performance from some while demanding or expecting high performance from others is inequitable and unprofessional. Therefore, allowing an imbalance is unethical as well.

Providing professional leadership

As a final example: Poor performance ultimately causes the “performer” to be discharged or to underachieve his real potential. Both results are indicators of less-than-professional leadership.

To close this point: The only ethical course is to manage for results and high performance from all staff. At all times. No exceptions. Under this policy if an employee fails to make the grade it is the employee’s failing not the leader’s.

So, what other requirements are integral to “ethical” management?

Here’s a short wash list (in no particular order):

  • Establishing clear goals and objectives for the Company, and insisting that all management and staff meet clear and attainable performance levels

  • Empowering all staff members with both authority and responsibility to achieve their performance objectives – and holding them accountable for achievement

  • Recognizing and addressing real-time market realities in business plans and decisions instead of perpetuating illusory and/or obsolete plans

  • Identifying real business problems and addressing them instead of ignoring them or assuming they will merely disappear

  • Removing or re-assigning ineffective and/or poor managers so they don’t waste resources, demoralize staff or undermine excellence

  • Maintaining a lean, motivated, and competitive organization which is not subject to wasteful (hiring/layoff) staffing cycles

  • Hiring and/or retaining top caliber staff, consultants, and advisors to provide the very best (candid and real) feedback and insight, leading to the most effective and efficient business decisions.

  • Providing a clear and compelling vision to guide Company growth and evolution, including taking appropriate, calculated risks to evolve the business. There is no such thing as status quo. Situations improve or they regress

  • Managing for long-term success instead of quarterly Wall Street expectations

  • Complying with prevailing laws so that the Company is not put at risk of SEC or legal sanctions or lawsuits

  • Treating all staff fairly and equitably to mitigate (illegal) bias and to encourage loyalty and high performance

  • Cutting waste and ill-advised expenditures in all forms

  • Implementing technology when it will improve efficiency and competitiveness, and will reduce operating costs

  • Selling, divesting or shuttering money-losing Divisions and Departments

  • “Right-Sizing” to include outsourcing as necessary to reduce costs – to achieve the greatest chance of long term success and survival, and

  • Exemplifying the “courage of conviction.” True leaders must be ready to stand by their positions in the face of adversity and resistance

Managing at all times

You may ask why “ethical management” requires these behaviors. Consider that “professional” management implies maximizing the use and effectiveness of all resources and assets (human and capital) within your span of control – at all times – to achieve the greatest net return on financial investment, and invested effort, over time. To do less is to fall short. If long-term stockholders or investors lose money, or staff work is mis-prioritized or wasted because of poor Company (management) decisions over time then the leadership is not “professional.”

“Ethical” leaders shoulder the responsibility to provide consistent direction, mitigate waste in all its forms, and manage for long-term success with their decisions and actions every day. To do otherwise is to reduce the likelihood of sustained returns and longevity.

“Ethical” leaders are responsible to assure they have the very best insight possible to make the very best decisions. Typically this requires multiple inputs from multiple sources to mitigate personal bias and/or personal agendas. Personal agendas must be sacrificed in favor of organization-wide success and growth.

From a purely human standpoint, ethical and efficient management increases the chances of employing the greatest number of people for the longest period of time – since resources are not wasted. To put this another way: Waste is unethical. Large scale layoffs, bankruptcy proceedings, fines, lawsuits, collection expenses, write-offs, etc. are wastes of money (except for the lawyers involved), and generally result from management mistakes. Such waste is unethical if it could have been reasonably avoided with better and/or more timely decisions and leadership.

So, the next time you think of “ethics” connected with management, look beyond the notion that ethics implies only legal (moral) values.

Ethical management requires much, much more.

For more information about Visage Solutions, contact Bob Broda (rmbroda@hotmail.com; phone: 919 271 3714). Web site: www.visage solutions.com