During the early 1980s Johnson & Johnson faced an ethical dilemma. Several batches of its Tylenol medication were found to have been injected with cyanide. Despite the loss of earnings involved, the company immediately withdrew every packet of Tylenol from the market.
Today that sounds the obvious thing to do. But why did Johnson & Johnson act so quickly? The company said that it returned to the first line of its Credo. This read:
“We believe our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”
The company put its long-term reputation before short-term cash and withdrew Tylenol from the shelves.
Johnson & Johnson prepared for such moments. During the 1970s it put all its employees through a programme called The Credo Challenge. People were invited:
* To envisage specific situations that might challenge the Credo.
* To explore how to follow the Credo in such situations.
People were invited to consider if the company could follow its Credo when meeting specific challenges. If so, that was excellent. If not, then there was little point in publishing such guidelines.
Johnson & Johnson found that the Credo withstood robust challenges. So they chose to use it as their guide during difficult situations.
1) You can recognise your Tylenol Moment.
Looking back at your professional life, have you ever faced such an ethical dilemma? You may have been faced by a choice: to be a whistle-blower – a truth teller – or to stay quiet; to act morally or to bend your morals; to make a tough decision or to take what seemed the ‘soft’ option. How did you deal with the difficult situation?
I have had relatively few such moments. Whilst I did lead a therapeutic community that contained people who had a high suicide risk, we had a clear framework for managing crises. So the professional code was relatively easy to follow. Perhaps my most difficult moment came much later, however, when I was working as a mentor.
During the late 1990s a large high tech company asked me to design a career development programme. It was agreed to base this on developing people’s strengths. The programme involved designing materials, running workshops and one-to-one coaching. The pilot would be rolled out to 400 people and then to a further 600.
There was one other dimension. The high tech company had hired an e-learning supplier to provide software to reinforce the learning. The software package – and on-going consultancy back up – had already been purchased at great cost by a technical department in the business.
All went well during the initial discussions. After exploring the software package, however, we found it was based on highlighting people’s weaknesses. People were supposed to itemise their shortcomings and ‘bridge the gaps’ between their present and desired performance.
The ‘people department’, responsible for career development, and the ‘technical department’, responsible for the software, had not talked to each other.
So the company asked me to change the approach. Could we focus on people’s weaknesses, rather than their strengths? Certainly it was possible to provide tools for managing the consequences of weaknesses, but we had agreed the emphasis should be on people’s ‘A’ talents.
The company had the right to call the shots. If they preferred the weakness route, they needed somebody who was an expert in that approach.
So I suggested it may be better for them to get another supplier, rather than myself. The contract was worth a huge amount, but I was not doing a U-turn on the strengths philosophy. The company asked for time to consider, then got back within an hour. They wanted to go the strengths route. Paradoxically, the interaction cemented the relationship and we worked together for over a decade.
When have you faced ethical dilemmas? Try tackling the exercise on this theme. First, describe the times when you have had Tylenol Moments. Second, describe what might be a potential Tylenol Moment in the future. Then move onto the next stage.
2) You can clarify your ethics at your Tylenol Moment.
Sometimes it can be difficult clarifying one’s inner compass during a difficult situation. Here is an example given by an external mentor to a company. You may or may not agree with their conclusion, but how would you behave in such a situation? The mentor explained a dilemma they faced in their work.
“I had a dilemma when mentoring one client. She began crying during the session, explaining that she was being sexually harassed by her boss.
“She had recently got divorced and, even though she was quite strong, the harassment was crippling. We obviously looked at her options, but there was also a wider issue involved. Should the boss be employed by the company?”
“My contract with the company was quite clear: everything said in the mentoring sessions was confidential. Breaking this code would destroy trust with the mentee. At the same time, the company needed to know about the sexual harassment.
“How to solve the problem? Lots of options swirled around my head. Putting these on the back-burner, my first job was to help my mentee to deal with the issue.”
“Eventually things worked out. The mentee began by making a written record of the actual incidents of harassment. Describing these in a matter-of-fact way, she detailed the interactions and the actual words used by her boss.
“Seeing this in black and white showed a clear pattern of inappropriate behaviour. Looking at her options going forward, she could choose to ignore his behaviour; confront him; leave the company or report his behaviour. Each option had pluses and minuses. By reporting his behaviour, for example, she might lay herself open to accusations of misinterpretation.”
“She chose to let the company know about his behaviour. This was met with the comment: ‘That is interesting.’ Apparently she was the second woman to report him, but the previous allegations were not backed-up by concrete evidence. This time it was acted upon and the boss left the company.”
“What would I have done if the mentee had chosen not to report the boss? That is a hard question. Looking at the options, my first reaction would be to respect the wishes of the mentee. Otherwise I would have placed her in a difficult position. Second, I would probably have done some discreet research about the boss. Did he have a pattern of bullying or sexual harassment?”
“If so, I would have found out whether or not this was known by authorities in the company. If it was known – and not acted upon – I would have resigned from providing the mentoring. At the same time, I would have continued seeing the mentee on a non-funded basis.
“If the boss had a pattern of abuse and it wasn’t known, then I would have had a conversation with my key sponsors in the company. The aim would be to clarify what I should do if, during the sessions, I became aware of abusive behaviour in the business.
“Fortunately it did not come to this – the boss resigned, without compensation – and the mentee went on to develop her career.”
Let’s return to your potential Tylenol Moment. Looking to the future, how could you clarify your ethics – the inner compass you want to follow – in that situation? Try completing the following sentence.
3) You can behave ethically at your Tylenol Moment.
Anticipating such challenges can improve your chances of behaving ethically in the specific situation. Just like Johnson & Johnson, you can then translate this into action. So how can a person practice this approach? Let’s consider one example.
Imagine you are a sports psychologist. You have been asked to help ‘Frank’, a talented footballer. He has a history of flying into a rage and getting sent off. Frank has voluntarily embarked on a rehabilitation programme, part of which is learning to deal with provocation.
How can you help him to deal with such problems? These are his Tylenol Moments: the times when he must stay calm, return to his internal compass and make good decisions. Working with Frank, you clarify the 'What', 'How' and 'When'. He focuses on what he wants to achieve, how he can achieve and when he will be put to the test. You go through the following steps.
* The ‘What’.
What are his professional goals? What is the legacy he wants to leave? Does he want to be known as: an international footballer, a good Premiership player or as somebody who could have made it, but didn’t? Looking back from that date in the future, what are the actual words he wants: a) To say about himself; b) To hear others saying about his career? Working with Frank, you help him to clarify his professional goals.
* The ‘How’.
How can he do his best to achieve those goals? What will be his professional code of conduct? How does he want to behave when provoked? Certainly he will meet opponents and hostile spectators who aim to provoke him into retaliation.
How does he want to behave in a professional way: a) During the week; b) During matches; c) During incidents that are aimed at provoking him? You work with Frank on clarifying his code of behaviour.
* The ‘When’.
How can he stay calm and make good decisions during those provocative incidents? Working together, you settle on his chosen strategy. You ask Frank to brainstorm potential flash points. These include: arriving at the opposition ground; taunts from spectators – about himself, his wife and his children; taunts from opposition players; bad refereeing decisions; and being kicked by the opposition.
Frank chooses to focus on spectators taunting him about his child, who has recently recovered from a serious illness. Going to take a throw in, he hears spectators saying that they wish his child had died. Frank rehearses his inner dialogue:
“I have a wonderful child and wife. I am paid to play the game I love. I will focus on the ball and do my best in the match.”
This becomes his mantra. He will repeat this whenever faced by provocation. Frank also chooses a physical trigger he will use to buy time and compose his thoughts. Looking at his left hand, he will conjure up a picture his child and wife. Their future lies in his hands. Switching into active mode, he will then do his best during the match.
Sounds far-fetched? Perhaps, but this is the kind of mental training done by some high profile footballers. Concentrating on their legacy, they are then able to stay calm, return to their inner compass and work towards their long-term goals.
Let’s return to your anticipated Tylenol Moment. How can you focus on your ethics and translate these into concrete behaviour? Try completing the following sentence.
Many organisations, teams and individuals like to say that they are values-driven. People show their true values, however, when times get tough. Johnson & Johnson did that in the early 1980s. You can also do it during your Tylenol Moments.