Companies that promote morality and ethics in business usually have an easier time developing a cooperative culture than those that encourage unethical or immoral behavior. The adversity generated by unethical acts can be either internally or externally driven. Internally driven adversity occurs when employees or managers in your own company ask you to take action that may be in the best interest of your company but violates your own moral and ethical beliefs. Typical examples might include:
• You are asked to lie to the customer in a proposal in order to win the contract.
• You are asked to withhold bad news from your own management.
• You are asked to withhold bad news from the customer.
• You are instructed to ship a potentially defective unit to the customer in order to maintain production quotas.
• You are ordered to violate ethical accounting practices to make your numbers "look good" for senior management.
• You are asked to cover up acts of embezzlement or use the wrong charge numbers.
• You are asked to violate the confidence of a private personal decision by a team member.
External adversity occurs when your customers ask you to take action that may be in the customer's best interest (and possibly your company's best interest), but once again violates your personal moral and ethical beliefs. Typical examples might include:
• You are asked to hide or destroy information that could be damaging to the customer during legal action against your customer.
• You are asked to lie to consumers to help maintain your customer's public image.
• You are asked to release unreliable information that would be damaging to one of your customer's competitors.
• The customer's project manager asks you to lie in your proposal so that he/she will have an easier time in approving contract award.
Project managers are often placed in positions where an action must be taken for the best interest of the company and its customers, and yet the same action could be upsetting to the workers. Consider the following example as a positive way to handle this:
• A project had a delivery date where a specific number of completed units had to be on the firm's biggest customer's receiving dock by January 5. This customer represented 30% of the firm's sales and 33% of its profits. Because of product development problems and slippages, the project could not be completed early. The employees, many of whom were exempt, were informed that they would be expected to work 12-hour days, including Christmas and New Year's, to maintain the schedule. The project manager worked the same hours as his manufacturing team and was visible to all. The company allowed family members to visit the workers during the lunch and dinner hours during this period. After delivery was accomplished, the project manager arranged for all of the team members to receive two weeks of paid time off. At completion of the project, the team members were volunteering to work again for this project manager.
The project manager realized that asking his team to work these days might be viewed as immoral. Yet, because he also worked, his behavior reinforced the importance of meeting the schedule. The project manager's actions actually strengthened the cooperative nature of the culture within the firm.
Not all changes are in the best interest of both the company and the workers. Sometimes change is needed simply to survive, and this could force employees to depart from their comfort zones. The employees might even view the change as immoral. Consider the following example:
• Because of a recession, a machine tool company switched from a non-project-driven to a project-driven company. Management recognized the change and tried to convince employees that customers now wanted specialty products rather than standard products, and that the survival of the firm may be at stake. The company hired a project management consulting company to help bring in project management since the business was now project-driven. The employees vigorously resisted both the change and the training with the mistaken belief that, once the recession ended, the customers would once again want the standard, off-the-shelf products and that project management was a waste of time. The company is no longer in business and, as the employees walked out of the plant for the last time, they blamed project management for the loss of employment.
Some companies develop "Standard Practice Manuals" that describe in detail what is meant by ethical conduct in dealing with customers and suppliers. Yet, even with the existence of these manuals, well-meaning individuals may create unintended consequences that wreak havoc.
Consider the following example:
• The executive project sponsor on a government-funded R&D project decided to "massage" the raw data to make the numbers look better before presenting the data to a customer. When the customer realized what had happened, their relationship, which had been based upon trust and open communications, was now based upon mistrust and formal documentation. The entire project team suffered because of the self-serving conduct of one executive.
Sometimes, project managers find themselves in situations where the outcome most likely will be a win-lose position rather than a win-win situation. Consider the following three situations:
• An assistant project manager, Mary, had the opportunity to be promoted and manage a new large project that was about to begin. She needed her manager's permission to accept the new assignment, but if she left, her manager would have to perform her work in addition to his own for at least three months. The project manager refused to release her, and the project manager developed a reputation of preventing people from being promoted while working on his project.
• In the first month of a twelve-month project, the project manager realized that the end date was optimistic, but he purposely withheld information from the customer in hopes that a miracle would occur. Ten months later, the project manager was still withholding information waiting for the miracle. In the eleventh month, the customer was told the truth. People then labeled the project manager as an individual who would rather lie than tell the truth because it was easier.
• To maintain the customer's schedule, the project manager demanded that employees work excessive overtime, knowing that this often led to more mistakes. The company fired a tired worker who inadvertently withdrew the wrong raw materials from inventory, resulting in a $55,000 manufacturing mistake.
In all three situations, the project manager believed that his decision was in the best interest of the company at that time. Yet the final result in each case was that the project manager was labeled as unethical or immoral.
It is often said that "money is the root of all evil." Sometimes companies believe that recognizing the achievements of an individual through a financial reward system is appropriate without considering the impact on the culture. Consider the following example:
• At the end of a highly successful project, the project manager was promoted, given a $5,000 bonus and a paid vacation. The team members who were key to the project's success and who earned minimum wage, went to a fast food restaurant to celebrate their contribution to the firm and their support of each other. The project manager celebrated alone.
The company failed to recognize that project management was a team effort. The workers viewed management's reward policy as immoral and unethical because the project manager was successful due to the efforts of the entire team.
Moral and ethical conduct by project managers, project sponsors, and line managers can improve the corporate culture. Likewise, poor decisions can destroy a culture, often in much less time than it took for the culture to be developed.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.