Do you step up to the point of principle or step down to go along to get along?
Why do individuals facing the same ethical challenge, behave differently? Lawrence Kohlberg’s identified 6 stages of moral development that people may progress through or may remain stuck at any one stage. Leveraging of his research, here is our modern twist to explain why employees behave differently in the same workplace situation.
Stage 1 – PTB or please the boss syndrome
Employees in this stage are motivated by self-interest only. They largely go along to get along doing whatever is asked of them to avoid any comebacks.
Stage 2 – You scratch my back
Employees at this stage continue to be egocentric and acting largely out of self-interest. They may consider others but it’s driven by a belief that such help will be reciprocated or it’s unavoidable if personal interests are to be protected.
Stage 3 – Who’s watching?
Self- focus now gives way to a consideration of how others might view or judge personal actions. Conformity and winning the approval of significant others become motivators.
Stage 4 – Do the right thing
At stage 4 self- respect kicks in. Employees now become guided by personal and employer values. Notions of personal accountability and responsibility are canvassed as part of the decision making process.
Stage 5 – It’s a matter of principle
Employees now become proactive and discerning in their decision making. Notions of “fairness” and “the common good” emerge. Employees at this level are willing to both call it and to challenge unacceptable behaviour when they see it. The need to protect others may encourage internal whistle-blowers if they feel the point of principle is being transgressed.
Stage 6 – The power of one
Employees at this stage are values-driven and want to work for organisations that are values-driven too. They are big picture people who want to change the status quo for the better. Protecting and enhancing the dignity of all individuals as well as the planet become motivators.
Can you identify at which stage of moral development you are in? How about the young people in your organisation? The frozen middle? Answers to these questions highlight how in business ethics training no one size fits all!