What Were They Thinking??!
First we heard about Captain Honors, commander of a Navy aircraft carrier, making a “raunchy video” to relieve the stress of combat for his crew. Then we heard about the Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) drug scandal and the whistleblower that exposed bad processes resulting in drug mix-ups, contamination, and ultimately a $750M fine for adulterated drugs. My biggest question is this – What Were They Thinking???
Supposedly these people are intelligent, hard-working individuals who have years of experience under their belts. And yet, they seem to be exhibiting an amazing lack of professional judgment and ethical conduct. Did they believe they wouldn’t get caught? Did they believe they could plead ignorance or hide the details under the rug? Did they believe they could buy their way out? I just cannot seem to understand what drove the Navy captain and the Glaxo officials to do these things.
As with all situations, there are many different sides to the story. Many people rushed to the defense of the Navy captain, saying he’s a good commander and he did these videos to help his crew. Does that make his action any less ethical? Any more professionally sound in judgment? No. There are other ways to address the problems and help others while maintaining solid moral and ethical conduct. But the question is this: where do we draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate conduct? Political correctness has everyone so terrified to utter even a single word, sometimes, that we stifle everything and lose the ability to have an open discussion about what we think or feel.
Discussions today about ethical conduct revolve around ways to mitigate liability, rather than ways to resolve the problems or view business ethics in more positive terms. What makes me most sad is the way that responsible people deny responsibility. In the case of GSK, the company is not denying they sold adulterated drugs! They’re denying that anyone was hurt and they’re denying retaliation on the whistleblower. She lost her job in a “downsizing” within weeks of delivering her report to senior executives. I do not know the true facts here. The perception, however, is that this is “damage control.” And in my view, this is worse than the initial misconduct. It destroys trust, and it destroys honesty, and it destroys integrity.
I once participated in a new job orientation program in which we were told the way to decide what to do was to determine if it was something we would be proud to see on the nightly news. If the answer was yes, it was ok to take the action. If the answer was no, then maybe we should rethink the action or do something else. Perhaps I should send this advice to the Navy Captain and the senior GSK executives as a reminder of how to improve their decision-making processes…