Ethical Excellence

10 behavioral tenets for the quality professional

by Russell T. Westcott

As the first decade of the new millennium unfolds, opportunity abounds—and so does risk. We are bombarded daily with news about undesirable human behavior. The ratio of bad news to good news weighs heavily on the average, hard-working, law-abiding citizen.

The everyone-is-doing-it syndrome influences the weak. Lessons that could be learned about ethical and moral behavior are ignored, and undesirable behavior is often flaunted.

Politicians wreck their careers and disappoint their followers with their actions. Business leaders of once-respected organizations lapse into deviousness, self-aggrandizement and greed, destroying themselves, their families, workers, business associates and organizations. Religious leaders turn to moral deviations that harm their followers, taint their organizations and discredit the beliefs of their calling.

Lying, cheating and taking unfair advantage of another person are widely practiced among a growing number of the world’s populace. Yet the total of all people behaving thusly is a fraction of the world population—so far.

One small segment of the body of knowledge pertaining to the manager of quality/organizational excellence certification calls for the awareness, study and practice of adhering to the ASQ Code of Ethics in all we do as quality professionals. Although not much time is taken on this topic, ethics are the guiding light that should show us the best path to follow.

These 10 tenets I created can serve as a checklist to aid in assessing your behavior and for behaving ethically:

  1. Set high personal standards: Live by the spirit and intent of the law and basic human values. The legal system itself is not always the best and only conscience guide.
  2. Listen to the voice within, but don’t believe all you hear: Beware the conflict between the ethical "shoulds" and your selfish "wants." Don’t con your conscience.
  3. When in doubt, talk it out: Discuss your ethical quandary with people whose ethics you respect. Avoid the "yes" person.
  4. Accept that being ethical isn’t always fun: Your ethics can aggravate some people and make you unpopular. Your ethics can sometimes cost you money or inhibit your upward mobility.
  5. Ethical "debt" will catch up with you: Trading today’s temptations for a mortgage on the future puts you deeper in the hole. When you defer payment you usually pay more.
  6. Build your character with a lot of the small stuff: It’s the little things you do that often help establish your repertoire of ethical behavior. It’s often the little exceptions you take that signal you do not practice what you preach.
  7. Beware the "snake in the grass:" Pay attention to early warning signs. Distance yourself from issues and actions that raise your suspicion, or anticipate the potential trouble and prepare to deal with it.
  8. Recognize that many unanticipated and acknowledged mistakes may be worthwhile: Allow yourself and others to make a mistake if it is honest, avoids deception and opens dialogue for improvement.
  9. The actions you take speak louder than words: Demonstrate your ethics in your everyday, everywhere behavior. Take pride in your beliefs and take blame for your shortcomings.
  10. Be the place where the "buck" stops: Unethical behavior is rampant in society today. But, like a disease or a raging forest fire, there must be a place where a stand is taken and it is stopped. Be that place.

If you haven’t done so lately, re-read the ASQ Code of Ethics. Perhaps hang a copy in your workspace within your line of sight, follow it and spread the word, or even create your own comparable code of ethics.


ASQ’s Code of Ethics can be found at www.asq.org/about-asq/who-we-are/ethics.html.

Russell T. Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, CT, consults on strategic planning, project management, quality management systems and career coaching. He is an ASQ fellow and a certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE) and quality auditor. Westcott is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition; co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook; and author of Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000. Westcott is an instructor of the ASQ CMQ/OE refresher course, and he serves on the Quality Management Division Advisory Committee and ASQ’s Thames Valley Section executive board.

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