Designing a strong moral and ethical practice

Being successful in the tech industry is one thing, but it is important to maintain a strong sense of ethics and morality. The unofficial motto of a large tech company, famously, was "don't be evil". But what does it mean, and what does it take? In this post, I will talk about designing a strong moral and ethical practice.

Morality vs ethics

What is the difference between morality and ethics? There is a common misconception that morality and ethics are one and the same. So what is the difference?

An ethical code is a set of rules that defines allowable actions or correct behaviour. These rules are created by the society in which one resides. By contrast, a moral precept is an idea or opinion that's driven by a desire to be good and is generally based on one’s own views of the world.

For example, there are countries in the world where there are laws against gay marriage, and in some cases the act has been criminalised. This is an example of the ethics of the country. On the other hand, I could move to one of these countries and consider it to be perfectly acceptable to be gay. This is an example of morality.

Designing a moral practice

When designing a moral practice ethics are the foundation on which it shall stand. Companies must have their ethics set out and visible to all employees.

The hardest part of the process is to ensure that the ethics of the company are practised; this is where the morality aspect comes into play. Designing a moral practice is a multifaceted design practice which takes investment from the organisation.

Lead by example

Morality has to start at the top of the organisation. The saying “Do as I say and not as I do” is a sure-fire way to sabotage a company's ethics. Management needs to be invested in the process. The behaviour of the leaders will influence the behaviour of others. By displaying ethical and moral behaviour, the nature of the organisation can be seen, and management shows that these are qualities that are also expected from employees.

Hire according to your values

The hiring process needs to be included in this design process to ensure that new employees joining the organisation are aware of the company's beliefs and values. The new employees must be aligned with the goals of the practice. Ultimately, everyone working for the company should be morally aligned with the company's ethics.

Reacting to ethical and unethical behaviour

The reaction of an organisation to immoral and unethical behaviour is an important aspect of the practice. The response to this type of behaviour sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. It is important to deal with unethical behaviour swiftly and sternly. It should be clear to all: this type of behaviour is unacceptable.

There is a common approach when designing and implementing a moral practice to financially reward moral behaviour. I personally strongly disagree with this. Money might be a strong motivator, but I believe it is counterintuitive to an individual’s morals. Designing a moral practice ought to be focused on the people within the company, and although good behaviour can be ensured by financial rewards, this is then only ensuring that the ethics of a company are upheld. The true goal is to create a grassroots movement that focuses on an individual's morality. By financially rewarding good behaviour you are only scratching the surface of an individual and not getting to their core morality.

Humans are the key part to designing a moral practice. Individuals need to believe that the ethics of the company are the right thing to do and be committed to upholding them.

Who you are, what your values are, what you stand for. They are your anchor, your north star. You won’t find them in a book. You will find them in your soul.
Anne M. Mulcahy

About the author

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Clair Barnardt

Clair Barnardt

I believe that if something is worth doing then it's worth doing properly. Read more from Clair Barnardt...