Printer Friendly

What value do ethics have in the corporate world?

SECURITY IS SOMETIMES viewed as a function in search of a discipline. The history of private security has been one of feast or famine, rising and falling with the tides of an economic sea.

Too often the businessperson looks at security as a luxury. This luxury item is affordable in good times but is often the first to be cut in an economic downswing. Part of the reason security is vulnerable to economic circumstances lies with the profession's leaders. They fail to clearly demonstrate, by deeds and examples, the value of security and loss prevention to a corporation throughout the year.

Security professionals discuss the cost of their vital services only at budget time, when the cutting blade is sharpest. Often, security's value can be shown only in terms of process as opposed to output. This is because so much of security's nature is oriented to prevention rather than recovery.

Other industries have capitalized on the prevention role. In medical services, for example, prevention is touted as a major way to cut expenses. Medicine is a clearly recognized profession; therefore, shifts in emphasis to prevention can be rationalized to clients in that professional context.

Security managers need to assert and practice their functions in a professional manner. This will lead to acceptance of security as a profession by leadership team members, composed of top management and department heads.

The generally accepted test of a profession is made up of several elements, including the following:

* Specific standards and a code of ethics and conduct that govern the actions of the members of that profession.

* A body of knowledge, professional journals, and a historical perspective that act as guides for new members of the profession.

* A recognized association that provides a forum for the continuing discussion and development of the profession.

* A certification program that ensures that the members of the profession are competent to practice in the field.

* An educational discipline that prepares students in the specific functions and philosophies of that profession.

While this may seem to be quite a menu for the leaders in security, much progress has already been made. In his essay, "The Time Has Come to Acknowledge Security as a Profession," E. J. Criscuoli, Jr., CPP, executive vice president of ASIS, attests to this fact:

Security can be considered a profession because it requires "advanced training" of a "mental rather than manual" nature.

This claim is not made to suggest that all security practitioners demonstrate full professional competence; no profession could seriously make that claim. Rather, it is made to point out a fact many people seem unaware of--that security is not merely a matter of intuition or common sense; it involves a complex body of knowledge, analytical abilities, and the know-how to prescribe suitable security measures for individual circumstances as well as the effective use of an array of other managerial skills.(1)

USING THE PREVIOUS ELEMENTS as guidelines for a profession, the first point--ethics--merits further consideration.

The majority of persons in any organization are ethical and moral, with security professionals even more so on the average. However, some individuals do set different values on ethical behavior, so we need to accept the benefit of and need for ethics in the security profession.

What is considered right or wrong can be placed on a behavior continuum. The continuum ranges from prescribed or encouraged to proscribed or discouraged behavior. The balance point is not constant. It changes at different times in different societies.

These changes can be observed by examining the treatment over time of what is considered pornographic material. Not long ago, much of the material now found for sale at most bookstalls on street corners would have gotten the publisher burned at the stake.

Regarding behavior changes at different times, examine the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was passed in 1919 and prohibited the sale of alcohol. Prior to 1919, alcohol could be legally sold and consumed in the United States. From 1919 until the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the sale of alcohol was illegal but consumption was legal. This created a flourishing crime industry that supplied bootleg alcohol for persons who did not agree with the law.

In the first example, the societal change occurred over a long period of time. And, for whatever reasons, society came to agree that the strict pornography laws were unnecessary, and the laws were gradually relaxed.

In the case of prohibition, small, private, antialcohol interest groups got the 18th Amendment passed. The mood and attitude of society as a whole was not in sync with the amendment, and police found it difficult to enforce these laws. As a result, many people continued to buy alcohol from illegal sources until the laws were repealed. Efforts toward the legalization of some drugs in the 1990s have a reverse but parallel rationalization.

SO, WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF RIGHT and wrong? Why do some people believe it is right to take pencils and paper home from the office for their children to use in school but wrong to use that same company's vehicles and fuel for their personal use?

The security practitioner constantly faces conflict between organizational ethics and standards and professional ethics and standards. Many say that security leaders must follow their organization's golden rule. But this simplistic statement results in the situational ethics trap and hardly denotes a sense of ethical professionalism.

The private security professional is often encouraged by less ethical colleagues in the organization to "go along to get along." This usually means making some compromise of personal and professional standards in situations that are clearly unethical, even illegal. For instance, an employee might ask a coworker to fill in his or her time sheet with false data while he or she goes to play golf.

The media presents a constant barrage of exposes involving unethical behavior. They disclose scandals by members of Congress, televangelists, law enforcement personnel, bankers, doctors, teachers, businesspeople, financial advisers, union leaders, and even presidential candidates.

Security professionals must strive to be extra vigilant about their own ethics. It is too easy to say, "everyone is doing it" and look the other way from such behavior or even join in. As security professionals charged with the protection of life, property, and possessions, we must constantly consider the "rightness" and "wrongness" of what we observe and do. As noted by Al Foster in an article in Security Management:

As a security professional, I have grown increasingly concerned about something we seem to have lost sight of in America. It has been the mortar between the bricks of our national character and our industrial strength, and it is represented by one small word, a word that encompasses the best qualities we have always expected of ourselves, our peers, and our leaders--ethics. That word lives among a select group of small, powerful words like duty, honor, and country...words that carry meanings far beyond their humble dictionary definition.

In reality, ethics are the binding threads that are interwoven through every fold in the fabric of human endeavor, providing strength and trust. Ethics are inseparably linked to the laws of our land, to statutory requirements, and to social acceptability. Behavior that is unethical is often also illegal.(2)

In the 1980s, ethics were often scoffed at, bypassed, or ignored. In the 1990s, security professionals must maintain ethical standards for themselves and their employees or perhaps consider other lines of work. A security professional charged with guarding the chicken coop must not let himself or herself succumb to the temptation to become just another fox. Security managers must act as positive examples and advisers to the organization's members, no matter how difficult the situation may become.

ASIS, while not the sole representative of the security profession, is the industry's largest advocate and acts as the major force for all segments of security and loss prevention. ASIS also has published a comprehensive code of ethics.

ASIS's Code of Ethics highlights the need for security professionals to keep their corporate administration informed:

At times you may disagree with corporate administration.... Protecting a human life is required of everyone. Only recently have heads of corporations been found guilty in court for business decisions. If you make decisions inside the business and corporate setting |or abet them~ that can cause death or harm to someone, then you are guilty, too.(3)

Security professionals must make management realize that the long-term costs of unethical shortcuts in security practices will outpace the short-term savings once litigation awards are considered. The bottom line is this: If your professional code of ethics conflicts with company policy and management's behavioral standards, you may have to stop being a part of the management team and uphold your professional ethics. You must observe special standards of conduct and manifest good faith in professional relationships with all individuals.

As Delores Cassidy-Ervin noted in a Security Management article, "Whether you work in an industrial, retail, military, or security education setting, you will be expected to make ethical decisions that may conflict with administration or corporate policy. Making these decisions won't be easy, but it is the only way to live up to--and with--your professional ethics."(4)

The cost to American industry as a result of unethical behavior by employees is in the billions. In the government, this cost is passed on to the taxpayer; in business, it is passed on to the consumer. Those who report unethical or illegal behavior are called whistle-blowers. Unfortunately, whistle-blowing often results in harder treatment of the informant than of the violators.

The apparent corporate and government tolerance of violators makes an individual think several times before taking action. While the security professional may feel that whistle-blowing will not enhance his or her career, always remember that the security person is the one charged with blowing the whistle.

ETHICS ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF LEADership in any professional position. This is true even more so for those in the security management field, who are responsible for enforcing organizational rules, laws, and regulations.

Security leaders must first set their own standards for proper conduct. They must decide if--and how much--they are willing to bend the rules for themselves and others. They must be prepared for organizational goals that compromise their personal and professional standards as well as personal and professional standards that conflict with organizational goals.

Security leaders must be aware that their ethical conduct is always being observed and factored into the behavior of others. If a security leader is willing to look the other way on what he or she considers "little things," the staff may lose confidence in his or her ethics and values.

It is a false truism in the security and criminal justice business that little things do not mean a lot. Actually, little things mean everything.

If a security leader has values and goals that conflict with the organization's goals, it will be difficult for him or her to do an effective job. Security leaders should develop a strong set of values and document them in a mission statement for their organization. This statement should be written with the support and assistance of the chief executive officer.

Norman Vincent Peale illustrates five "Ps" to describe the kind of statements a leader needs to help build a team with the same ethics and values:

Purpose: The mission of our organization is communicated from the top. Our organization is driven by values, hopes, and a vision that helps us determine what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Pride: We feel proud of ourselves and of our organization. We know that when we feel this way, we can resist temptation to behave unethically.

Patience: We believe that holding to our ethical values will lead us to success in the long term. This involves maintaining a balance between caring about results and caring about how we achieve these results.

Persistence: We have a commitment to live by ethical principles. We make sure our actions are consistent with our purpose.

Perspective: Our managers and employees take time to pause and reflect, take stock of where we are, evaluate where we are going, and determine how we are going to get there.(5)

These guidelines are basic, but they can provide a solid ethical foundation for security leaders and their staffs. The coordinated commitment will ensure that the security function is in harmony with the security leader's personal, professional, and organizational ethics. This harmony will allow the security leader to do the job without constantly referring to ethics and values for conflict resolution.

Clifford E. Simonsen, PhD, CPP, is president of Criminology Consultants International on Camano Island, WA. He is a member of ASIS.

1 E. J. Criscuoli, Jr., CPP, "The Time Has Come to Acknowledge Security as a Profession," The Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science (Newbury Park, CA: 1988), p. 99.

2 Al Foster, "What Ever Happened to Right and Wrong," Security Management, November 1989, p. 152.

3 American Society for Industrial Security, "Code of Ethics," Policy Guide, (Arlington, VA: American Society for Industrial Security, January 1983), reference 1080.

4 Delores Cassidy-Ervin, "Ethically Speaking..." Security Management, February 1989, p. 100.

5 Warren Bennis and Burt Namus, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Author:Simonsen, Clifford E.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Reporting adverse information.
Next Article:To spy or not to spy.

Related Articles
Let your life speak; teaching ethics in business.
Audit your ethics.
Green and read: there's no one-stop shopping for socially conscious money publications.
The Ethicist Who Isn't.
Accreditation Process Adds Ethics Component.
2000-2001 Board Nominees Announced.
Does Your Organization Have a Conscience?
Can you override your internet filter? A close examination of the Supreme Court decision has implications for school librarians nationwide.
Jones Lang LaSalle Named to 2008's "World's Most Ethical Companies" List by the Ethisphere Institute.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters