Journey to Excellence: Developing a Culture of Ethics
By Stephen Hall Founder, Brandworks Distribution LLC | December 27, 2015
In recent years an important buzzword in America hospitality has been quality assurance. Millions of dollars have been invested and still no comprehensive universal plan has emerged. The most common definition of quality is "conformance to standards." Unfortunately, if the standards are not correct, but achieved consistently, the definition of quality is met. However it cannot be said that excellence is present. To achieve excellence, standards have to be "right" standards and once you introduce "right" you introduce ethics.
Excellence is defined as the combination of quality assurance and ethics, or, "consistently meeting right standards." For the individual being ethical is "knowing what is right and having the will to do it." And it is in "knowing what is right" that requires us to adopt a ethics theory with which we teach our employees. Over the next few issues we will show, step-by-step, how to implement a program of excellence. Between the understanding of quality and ethics, managers have had more trouble with ethics. Let us start there.
The first obstacle in trying to develop a culture of ethics is deciding which ethical theory to adopt. The encyclopedia of ethics lists dozens and dozens of ethical theories by the great philosophers of history. Although I do not consider myself to be an expert in ethical theory I nonetheless have read enough theories to know that they can become very complicated. A common theme is to relate ethical behavior with doing good. The problem rests in trying to define "good". Furthermore, many theories also use words such as "pure," "God," "soul," "pleasure," "happiness," and "love." These are all words which the philosopher defines as he/she believes, however, that does not mean that everybody shares that same belief. Because such words have different meaning for different people ethics becomes what we call "situational ethics," that is to say, whatever the individual wants it to be.
Two different people viewing the same ethical situation can have two different interpretations. In another example of the difficulty of selecting an ethical theory consider the theory of Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873). He contends that ethics is determined by the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. I am fairly certain that a maid who finds a $100 bill on the guest room floor might well decide that her pleasure exceeds the guests pain and unethically pockets the money. And Plato (427 bc - 347 bc) speaks of a society consisting of soldiers, workers and philosophers and that is hardly relevant in today's world. Needless to say finding a meaningful theory is difficult after which trying to teach that theory to employees, many of whom have English as a second language, is almost impossible. As a consequence, an ethical theory is not adopted.
Introducing the Property Theory of Ethics
The theory is based on the premise that ethics is respecting the legal rights of indidividuals and entities to control the property they legally own. The theory was first proposed by John Locke (1632 - 1704). He coined the phrase "life, liberty and property" later picked up by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, who changed property to "pursuit of happiness." Unfortunately property to John Locke consisted of material possessions which does not go far enough. There are basically six classes of owned property, four of which are ours at birth, one which we acquire over a lifetime and one which is granted to us.