Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ethical is Always Better

Allison O'Brien

As Journalists and Public Relations professionals, all of our credibility is constantly under scrutiny.  Certain incidents or scandals will come about and give a bad reputation to others in the field.  In the "Follow the Leader" article, Virgil Scudder gave the example of Rupert Murdoch and his News of the World tabloid.  It was discovered that Murdoch's company had been involved in some illegal and criminal practices and Murdoch attempted to cast the blame on his employees.  However, as the article states, "a company's cultural and ethical standards come from the top down, not the bottom up.


As the article discusses, a CEO's (or whoever is in charge) behavior and actions basically sets the tone for how the employees will act and behave.  If the boss is ethical then the employees have a better chance of being ethical as well, and if the boss is unethical and encourages unethical behavior then the employees will probably follow suit and behave in an unethical manner.

Another example of this concept occurred with Wells Fargo in 2013.  According to this article, Wells Fargo employees were asked and encouraged to adopt fraudulent tactics in order to help the company achieve unrealistically high sales target and quotas.  Some of these tactics included opening unauthorized accounts, issuing illegal credit cards/lines of credit, forging client signatures and charging unnecessary fees.

In the "Follow the Leader" article, it states that one of the reasons that even honest people break the rules is because of "intense pressure by management to reach unrealistic goals or targets."  This was certainly the case in the Wells Fargo incident.  The investigation of Wells Fargo initially began when several employees (former and current) reported a large amount of sales pressure while working at the bank.

It appears that because of the pressure and influence of the upper level management of Wells Fargo, the employees felt that they had to use unethical tactics in order to satisfy their bosses and the company.  In the report that sparked the initial investigation, a former Wells Fargo branch manager claimed that you would be "severely chastised and embarrassed" in front of many of your peers if you did not reach your goals.

At the end of the "Follow the Leader" article, they discuss ways PR executives can create an ethical environment to help avoid situations like that of Rupert Murdoch and Wells Fargo.  Some of the examples were revealing the hazards of unethical behavior, encouraging a "whistleblower" line and promoting a set of standards/practices for the company to follow.

Unethical practices can not only land you behind bars (if your practices are both unethical AND illegal), but they can cause you to lose the trust of your employees/customers and tarnish or even ruin you and your company's reputation.  Things would be much easier if everyone followed the laws and the various codes of ethics, but we all know that dream is too good to be true.  It's crucial for Journalists, PR professionals and businesspeople alike to do their part and earn a good and trustworthy reputation.    

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