The enigma of being ethical and effective

Monday, 13 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The path that leads from employee engagement to enhanced organisational results needs delicate balancing. This is all about balancing of two Es, namely, being ethical and effective.

The numerous stories we heard ranging from global credit crunch to Golden Key chaos call for the need of ethicality. It is not achieving short-term gains “either by hook or by crook” but something much deeper, grounded on solid principles.

Ethics is difficult to define in a precise way. In a general sense, ethics is the code of moral principles and values that governs the behaviours of a person or a group with respect to what is right or what is wrong. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” says the golden rule of ethics.

Focusing more on business ethics, it is the capacity to reflect on values in the corporate decision making process, to determine how these values and decisions affect various stakeholder groups, and to establish how managers can use these observations in a day-to-day company management.

A code of ethics is a formal statement that acts as a guide for making decisions and acting within an organisation. Richard Daft, a well known management author speaks of a four-way test, which is globally advocated by Rotary International.

1.Is the decision truthful?

2.Is it fair to all concerned?

3.Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

4.Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

The answer should be “yes” to all above questions, in order for the decision to be ethical. The reality of being ethical is that the response should always be “digital”. Either you are ethical or unethical, and there is no half way. The challenge in this respect is to engage employees whilst ensuring that they are guided to be ethical and effective.

In search for an enduring response to the dire need to be ethical and effective, the twin terms, Niskam Karma (NK) and Sakam Karma (SK) makes much sense. These terms were introduced to the management circles by Chakraborty, a Management Researcher from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB).

Nishkam Karma (NK) is a term derived from the revered Hindu text, Bhagawad Gita. It literally means detached involvement. Performing work, accepted on the basis of agreed remuneration, with little calculation or comparison with others, or concern for additional personal recognition, gain or reward during or completion of the work. A verse in Bhagavad Gita enunciates the principle of NK as: “Thou hast a right to action, but only to action, never to its fruits; let not the fruits of thy works be thy motive, neither let there be in thee any attachment in inactivity.”

The opposite of NK is termed as Sakam Karma (SK) meaning attached involvement. As Chakraborty elaborates, it means performing work, accepted on the basis of agreed remuneration, with anxious comparative calculation vis-à-vis others, for additional personal recognition, gain or reward during or on completion of the work.

Commenting on the Indian Scenario, he states the following: “The 1980s have been often described as the ‘greedy decade’. A similar phenomenon began in India in 1990s, initiated by the stock-exchange-banking mega scam. Several highly ranked chairmen and CEOs of companies, chief justices, vice chancellors, chairmen of State Public Service Commissions, senior bureaucrats and other important public figures came under a cloud, having been involved in unethical practices.”

It by no way means one has to leave the worldly affairs in becoming an ascetic. As Sri Aurobindo aptly pointed out, “action done with NK is not only the highest, but the wisest, the most potent and efficient even for the affairs of the world”. A desirable scenario would be to see the engaged employees becoming detached, yet continuing to be involved.

A simple example could be, a bank manager devoting himself/herself for the achievement of the given objectives, in a whole-hearted manner, without thinking of what one would get in return. The opposite of this will be another manager working hard on a personal agenda, aspiring to get the next promotion early.

The differences between NK and SK are shown in the table. As it clearly depicts, it is a comparison between ‘green’ vs. ‘greed’. The table clearly indicates the detachedness required in order to make employee engagement meaningful. The elements of NK should be considered when it comes to training and development initiatives related to employee engagement.

The acid test here is the ability to be “detached” yet get involved. The much-published statement by former US President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do to the country” – Such an approach is very relevant to a wide variety of institutions, in order to build employees who are ethical and effective.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has over two decades of both private and public sector working experience in diverse environments including Unilever and Nestlé. He has engaged in consultancies in more than 10 countries. He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa. He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK.)

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