In the wake of numerous price collusion cases brought to the Competition Commission in South Africa, the profile of ethics in organisations has become a focal point for policy makers and leaders alike. Since 1994 the King Committee has been developing guidelines for corporate governance in South Africa. The King 3 Report is the latest installment from the Committee that places a great emphasis on ethics. Our concern is that leaders will apply the prescripts of King 3 in a regimental fashion that will do very little in actually transforming the ethics culture of an organisation. We believe that understanding the ethics landscape of your organisation should be a key factor in leaders minds.

As we think about a narrative-based approach to ethics management, we are certain that characterising the ethics landscape of an organisation will be a complex task. Ethically dubious situations, deals and arrangements will do their utmost to remain hidden. It is because of this that we propose monitoring the attitudes staff have towards ethics as a way in which leaders can identify the ethics hotspots in their organisations. This would be done by providing staff with an ethical dilemma and asking them to provide us with some information regarding their attitudes towards that dilemma.

Here’s an example of an ethical dilemma I came across while watching TV the other night …

In a recent episode of the TV series Private Practice, a drama series based on the private consulting practice of a group of medical practitioners, the resident psychologist, Violet, was faced with an ethical dilemma. In Season 2 of the series Violet takes on a new client, Katie Kent, an emotionally disturbed lady prone to delusional episodes who desperately wants a baby of her own, but cannot fall pregnant. Violet happens to be pregnant. The final episode of the season sees Katie piece together an elaborate plan where she ends up sedating Violet and cutting her baby out of the womb, leaving Violet for dead. Katie, in her delusional state, walks out with the new born believing that she has giving birth to her own baby.

As Season 3 unfolds, Katie is apprehended and brought before a court to face charges for the ordeal. Violet is asked to testify against Katie to conclude the case. Violet needs to make a choice: testify as a professional psychologist who has an opinion on whether Katie is ultimately responsible for her actions amidst her delusions, or present to the court a personal story of immense pain brought on by Katie’s actions regardless of her state of mind. Her choice was to either recommend that Katie be sentenced to psychiatric care, or sent to prison for life. Psychiatric care would see Katie treated for her condition with the hope of healing. Prison would result in Katie being lost in the system and not given the chance to be cured.

As an ethical dilemma, what choice would you make if you were Violet, and why?