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Four Questions That Challenge Your Ethical Decisions

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Many people are faced with a dilemma in that they want to practice conscientious and moral behavior, but are challenged to do so when difficult ethical problems and issues arise. In order to effectively deal with them, managers and their people need superior decision making tools that assist them in making the right choices.

Too many people are under the impression that they need to be deceptive and unethical in order to get ahead. They consider this line of thinking to be shrewd and “streetwise.” In business as in all other arenas, this perception isn’t shrewd: it’s foolish. Poor ethical decisions and judgments in the work environment, especially when considered cumulatively, have dramatic personal, professional and organizational ramifications.

The benefits of dealing with superiors, associates, subordinates and customers in a straight and forthright manner are obvious. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also positively impacts motivation, productivity and profitability. It is simply good business.

A profound business philosophy is to be found in a simple four-step decision making aid. While it does not direct people in what specifically to do or think, it does give them a tool to guide them in all of their business and personal decisions.

Well known to anyone ever associated with Rotary International and translated into more than 100 languages, The Four-Way Test is highly recommended as an easy decision making tool that makes a clear difference in the practice of ethical behavior.

Managers and employees must display the highest standards of honesty and integrity in their conduct to establish and sustain credibility. The Four-Way Test is a handy and simple litmus test for all personal actions and decisions.

Herbert J. Taylor developed the test during the depths of the depression in the 1930s. A young sales manager for Jewel Tea Company, Taylor was asked by Continental Bank in Chicago to take over the management of Club Aluminum Products, a manufacturer of pots and pans. The company was fraught with unethical business practices and bankruptcy. The banks had assumed control of it.

To bring the company out of bankruptcy, Taylor knew he had to change the way it did business. Ultimately, he developed the Four-Way Test business philosophy and instructed all employees to follow it in each of their dealings with customers, suppliers and associates. The philosophy turned the business around and ultimately brought it out of bankruptcy.

Is it the TRUTH? 

All decision-making must start with an objective base of facts—in other words, the truth. This is the basis for all decisions, negotiations and problem solving.

When resolving a conflict, all parties must agree on what constitutes the truth. All viewpoints and insights into the problem must be considered when defining the truth. The same process applies when making a decision. All sides of an issue or problem must be fully and objectively weighed before determining the truth of the matter.

The benefit of such an approach is that it effectively removes bias, emotion and personal agendas from the decision making process. When truth is objectively defined, viable solutions become obvious to a reasonable person.

Is it FAIR to all concerned?

Any problem or decision comes with a variety of options and solutions that are available when making a decision, solving a problem or negotiating a settlement or sale. The key is arriving at the best solution. When options, alternatives and solutions are weighed as to their impact on all parties, it becomes easier to narrow the options. When the final choices are filtered according to their fairness to all parties, the optimal decision will become obvious.


It is important that decisions leave all involved parties satisfied, knowing the decision is fair to them.

Most people want to get on well with others and treat them in the same fashion that they would wish to be treated. Managers and employees must make ethical choices that build consensus and long-term goodwill. This increases employee retention and profitability of the organization.

Decisions made involving individual employees must focus on the same factors. This establishes trust and credibility, which has a direct impact on personal motivation and productivity.

Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

The final point addresses the question, “What’s in it for me?” Individuals want to know how a decision benefits them. The final question assures all involved parties that an equitable and beneficial decision has been reached.

The questions asked in The Four-Way Test are interrelated, with the answer to one question effectively creating the possible answers to the next. The answers and solutions are obvious and logical to all involved.

In the practice of ethical behavior there is an increased need for effective decision making skills and tools to guide and direct managers and employees. Only when specific individuals wish to pursue a personal agenda or achieve a decision will any interference come into play. The Four-Way Test effectively exposes such personal goals and agendas without the need for the manager or employee to directly bring attention to them.


Ethics: Actions Do Have Consequences

Seven Practical Applications of Ethics

Leaders Are Judged By The Actions They Take

Trust is Based on Truth

Excerpt: Ethics and Integrity: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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