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How a Wharton professor’s CLIP method can help you with ethical dilemmas in the workplace

Posted by Neha De

September 1, 2021    |     3-minute read (627 words)

While teaching the graduate course on business responsibility at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, G. Richard Shell, chair of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, heard about several real-life ethical conflicts in the workplace from his MBA students. 

Shell found research that said more than 40% of workers see ethical misconduct at their place of work but do not report it, which kills office morale and allows the wrong people to set the example. Wanting to do something about the situation, Shell wrote the book “The Conscience Code: Lead with Your Values. Advance Your Career” as a practical guide for handling complicated ethical situations that can arise in the workplace.

The book “solves a crucial problem faced by professionals everywhere: What should they do when they are asked to compromise their core values to achieve organizational goals?; teaches readers to recognize and overcome the five organizational forces that push people toward actions they later regret; as well as lays out a systematic, values-to-action process that people at all levels can follow to maintain their integrity while achieving true success in their lives and careers,” according to Shell.

“The Conscience Code” guides readers through the CLIP framework, which business leaders can use in order to make their way through thorny ethical decisions by reviewing the elements of consequences, loyalty, identity and principles. 

The CLIP framework

The CLIP framework — consequences, loyalty, identity and principles — uses four pointed questions to advance one’s thinking and decision-making abilities. 

Consequences: This component answers the question: “What is the balance of harms?” Of all the components of CLIP, consequences are the most inherent and untaught; their philosophical origins go back to the functional roots of the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. The consequences element weighs the intentional as well as the unintentional outcomes of an action. Shell explains that in business school, he finds that students race to consequences, discuss them and then they think they are finished. This is because numerous business decisions are made after weighing the consequences. However, ethical ones go much deeper and wider. 

Loyalty: The loyalty part of the framework answers the question: “What duties do I owe to others?” The philosophical roots of this element can be found in Asian and Confucianism culture, and it plays a crucial role in ethical decision-making. This is because humans often feel a sense of loyalty for their co-workers, bosses and organizations. Once a decision is made, they still have to execute it, but with loyalty in mind, people can sometimes do it in a way that minimizes damage to others.

Identity: The identity element answers the question: “Can I live with this decision?” Identity is entrenched in the Aristotelian concept of virtue. It talks about who people are when dealing with ethical dilemmas. Shell emphasizes thinking of oneself not as a member of a business community exclusively, but as a member of a business community who is a person of conscience. Through his book, he wishes to evoke identity so that everyone can think of themselves as people with values, who can live with themselves after making the decision they make. 

Principles: The element of principles answers the question: “Is there a principle at stake that must not be compromised?” It comprises codes of conduct, such as the Ten Commandments of the Judeo-Christian tradition. People make smarter decisions when they have principles ton use as a reference. Sometimes, they also allow humans to offload the emotional component of difficult decisions.

Key takeaway: The CLIP framework is not meant to be a formula that makes challenging decisions simple, says Shell. Rather, it should be considered a guide for leaders to foster a values-based workplace and protect their integrity. 

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