Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Decision makers today are often faced with making decisions that cross multiple dimensions and where uncertainty and risk are present. One of the biggest decisions they make involves the level of commitment to managed quality, safety, environmental or regulatory programs all of which involve contending with uncertainty and risk.
"When faced with a set of uncertainties which cover a range of future states, some of which are unfavourable, then the uncertainties constitute a hazard. When we form an intent to act within that hazardous situation we are faced with a risk. The manner in which we deal with that risk will challenge us with an ethical dilemma. In a situation where the risk frame is more complex than a simple good/bad choice and the ethical frame is more complex than a simple right/wrong choice, then we are faced with a need for decision integrity. This is especially so when emergent circumstances present us with incalculable issues and destroy the rule book’s validity. "
Cybernetics and Systems Theory in Management: Tools, Views, and Advancement
Decision integrity is difficult to achieve when motivations are not aligned. High performing organizations seem to do better at making decisions that align with three motivational factors: is it legal, is it beneficial, and is it ethcial – the right thing to do?
Here we are looking at what is required or permissible through the eyes of the law. This is usually the first and often the last place that companies look for compliance requirements. Adhering to these will meet minimum obligations which while reducing the probability of fines and keeping companies out of jail may not go far enough to in making progress towards zero incidents, fatalities, defects, violations and so on. This is why we need to go further.
Here our decision making looks at what is useful to achieving the goals and objectives of the organization. These tend to be voluntary commitments made to best practices, industry standards, strategies, or even optional regulatory requirements. However, to achieve the benefits of these voluntary commitments they need to be perceived as more than just optional; they need to be considered as mandatory obligations. Ownership of obligations is essential. Only then will commitment be sufficient to put in the required work and make the necessary changes to create the desired outcomes. However, when cost pressures mount and production performance falls behind even what is beneficial may not be enough of a motivation.
Now we come to deciding what is right or wrong based on such things as values, code of conduct, or standards of behaviors. This can often lead to an ethical dilemma particularly when making risk-based decisions.
Deciding not to effectively contend with uncertainty and yet continuing to pursue the goal ends up leaving hazards in the way of achieving outcomes. Hazards extend beyond the physical and include any condition where uncertainty may result in unfavorable effects.
Leaving hazards (physical or otherwise) in place is not beneficial to the vision and mission of organization. However, it could also be considered as unethical particularly when risks are not communicated and shared with those who will be facing the hazards. And yet companies, perhaps unknowingly or ill advised, choose to leave hazards in place when they only view compliance through the narrow lens of only doing what is regulated and perhaps only what is enforced.
The purpose of compliance programs is to ensure outcomes by effectively contending with risk. Decision integrity is essential to make certain that commitment is made that aligns with three motivational factors: legal, beneficial, and ethical. To focus on one at the expense of the others is perhaps the greatest hazard in the way of mission success.