Monday, October 10, 2005

The Ethics of Retention

As any number of us have seen, the articles and warnings about the "sky is falling" when it comes to the dearth of talent in the coming years is all around us. BusinessWeek has had cover stories on the subject in one form or another for the last few weeks. There are also any number of discussions on the topic going on for a long time at the Electronic Recruiting Exchange site. One of the most recent was contributed by Kevin Wheeler who writes on staffing topics very frequently and with, in my opinion, great wisdom. Kevin is the President of Global Learning Resources, Inc., a consulting firm that helps companies figure out recruiting strategies.

Kevin's most recent piece was entitled Skill Shortages, Ethics, and Innovative Thinking and he makes a number of good points, but I thought the most important were those that focused on "ethics."

While we at ExecuNet are not recruiters, we certainly are up to our ears in the "staffing space" as they call it or on an even broader basis, up to our ears in the "career management" space. As a company we have been running around both arenas for 18 years come January. On a personal level, I have been running around both for more than 40 years. Over that time I have come to notice a couple of things about the world in which I find myself from both a personal and a business perspective:
  1. There is much that comes under the heading of "subjective." Ethics are subjective. As we know all too well from our Peanuts reading days, "Happiness is different things to different people." It can become horribly hair-splitting. Translation: A lawyer’s paradise.

  2. While I can respect everyone's right to define things that are subjective for themselves, the fact of the matter is that if it is subjective, we not only have the right to define it for ourselves, but we have no alternative unless we want to sit back and let someone else dictate the "values" we bring to our lives and hence to our livelihoods.

  3. Both the people and the businesses that I feel have been the most successful and most respected are those that haven't seem to need anyone to define ethics or values. They came with them, built in, because of what they were brought up to believe was "right" and "fair." And they didn't need much more to guide them other than that line that goes something like "Do unto others...."

  4. It has also been my observation that if and when you run into people or businesses whose mantra is more Gordon Geko-like, I walk away and smile to myself thinking of another line I recall hearing somewhere: "Time wounds all heels."
When it comes to the arena within which we operate, we get a pretty good perspective on the spectrum of behaviors that surface when you are dealing with businesses that are unregulated. Sometimes it is not a pretty picture, which is one of the key reasons that the subject of ethics comes about on sites like ERE and why people like Kevin write about them.


HarCohen said...

I think you contradict yourself between points 2 and 3. Those built-in ethics that you talk about generally came from the Greeks and the Bible (not to mention the works of cultures less familiar to us). Philosophers and shamans make it a matter of survival to define an ethos that goes past the personal and situational. A few have tried to define an ethos for our eventual interactions with other sentient beings. Animists have already, in a sense.

Whether ethics are dictated is a point of debate. The ethics we put into law may certainly survive a generation and be considered 'dictated'.

By definition, ethics can not be strictly internal but must be agreed upon and held to public scrutiny or we risk ending up with ethics that cannot be tolerated by the community at large. When there are no public ethics, there can be no trust, and no laws. For instance, we may never agree on how to deal with the practice of pedophilia, something I consider a horrendous abuse of trust involving physical and psychological damage, if we consider ethics subjective and do not 'let someone else dictate the "values" we bring to our lives'. We still expect that the community as a whole will act to deter pedophilia.

I do admire those that can live their ethics without chest-beating and self-righteousness. On the whole, I appreciate your conclusions and think you need to consider how you got there once again. We live in such an evolved web of ethics that we may not see all its influences and can only really note its absence.

Dave Opton said...

Thanks for the comment. I especially take note of your point regarding "living in such an evolved web of ethics that we may not see all its influences and can only note its absence." Fair comment and very well stated.