What Now?

Published: June 26, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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The fallout for former Food Network star Paula Deen continues to grow. After learning, through a recent court deposition, that she had used racial slurs and jokes that disparage blacks, the network announced that it would not renew Deen’s contract which expires at the end of this month. Now, Smithfield Foods announced that it was taking similar action.

“Smithfield condemns the use of offensive and discriminatory language and behavior of any kind,” a statement read. “Therefore, we are terminating our partnership with Paula Deen. Smithfield is determined to be an ethical food industry leader and it is important that our values and those of our spokespeople are properly aligned.”

Now what? How does she rebuild her reputation; regain her integrity?

Deen is going to have to commit both time and action toward positive change if she wishes to regain trust from employees, as well as the public’s confidence. Deen said that she wants to “learn and grow” from her experience. So, what can she do to live up to that goal? Here are a few steps.

1. Take an inventory –

Look at your behavior, all your behavior and write down those things that you are already aware that need to change. Talk to family, friends, employees and others to learn of additional incidents where you may have crossed the line. Ask for specific examples, and make clear that you are not interested in what they think you want to hear, but what actually happened and who may have been harmed.

2. Share the information with a trusted advisor –

Determine what is likely to be true from what may not be true. If in doubt, go back to the source and ask for more information.

3. Make a list of incidents –

List those incidents that you and your advisor have determined to be true. From an ethical standpoint, it would be helpful to assign a specific ethical value to each so that you clearly understand which issues need work. (i.e. “racial slurs” would fall under respect.)

4. Be accountable –

Own up to your mistakes, and make a sincere and personal apology to all those you have offended: family, friends, employees, etc. Include the fact that you intend to change and your desire to be a positive role model.

5. Develop an action plan –

Everybody makes mistakes. However, it’s what you do afterthose mistakes that determine character.

The only way to make positive change is by making an ethical commitment – a genuine willingness to do the right thing.; and work on developing an ethical consciousness – an awareness of the moral implications of your actions.

An employer has a special moral responsibility to look after the welfare of employees. Not only are they responsible for good working conditions, but employers should set an example in words and actions in how to treat all people. It is incumbent on an employer to spell-out what is expected of an employee both legally and ethically. If an ethical code of conduct does not exist, this would be good time to not only provide one for employees but encourage them to raise issues without fear of retaliation.

An employer should also make clear to supervisors and managers the importance of not abusing their position when it comes to employees.

6. Use the Ethical Principle Filter –

Teacher and ethicist Michael Josephson offers this strategy to determine if an action is right or proper. Each potential choice must pass through the filters of core ethical values: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.

— Is the conduct I am considering consistent with my obligation to be trustworthy? Am I prepared to be truthful, sincere and candid? Am I being disloyal to anyone, or breaking any promises?

— Am I treating everyone with respect? Is my conduct courteous and civil? Can anything I am doing be reasonably construed as an act of prejudice or intolerance?

— Is the conduct I am considering consistent with my responsibilities? Am I being accountable for my actions? Am I pursuing excellence? Am I exercising appropriate self-restraint?

— Is what I am considering doing fair to all concerned? Am I using appropriate criteria? Is my conduct consistent with principles of equity, equality, impartiality and openness?

— Does the conduct I am considering demonstrate my caring for the well-being of others? Am I causing unnecessary harm to anyone? Can I be kinder or more considerate?

— Am I living up to the standard of a good citizen? Am I breaking any rules or laws? Am I doing my share to improve the community where I work and live?

6. Monitor and Modify –

An ethical decision-maker should monitor the effects of their decisions, and is always willing to take a different course of action based on new information that may benefit stakeholders.

7. Be the change you wish to see –

Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi’s success was based on the idea that leaders must set an example. “You must watch my life,” he said, “how I live, eat, sit, talk, behave in general. The sum total of all those in me is my religion.”

Remember, good character is formed by living under conditions that demand good conduct. Ethical individuals not only demonstrate personal integrity but the courage to do the right thing even when faced with pressure to do otherwise.


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