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Question Mark All too frequently, we are presented with choices where we need to make a critical decision. Those decisions can have profound impacts for the businesses we are employed by, the type of work that we do, the people we work with, and who we are as people. We are constantly finding ourselves in the position of having to make choices, which can be exhausting when dealing with right and wrong. Have you ever asked yourself if you consistently choose the difficult right over the easy wrong? Ethics, it does a body good. Ethics play a large part in the role of business analysis. Without demonstrating ethics it is certainly difficult to build trust with your stakeholders. But are there shades of grey when it comes to ethics? I am sure you had an immediate reaction and response to that question, and it is one that we should all give pause for thought.

I went shopping at a large, local retailer. As I was strolling through the aisles, I saw an ad for a $60 gift card when you buy a vacuum. Although I was not planning on buying a vacuum that day, I made the decision to do so, given that the vacuum I had my eyes on was a $300+ vacuum, and the chances of getting a $60 gift card in the future for that same vacuum brand were “slim” to none (did you guess the vacuum?). Now hold on, that is not the decision of the difficult right vs. the easy wrong, which is still yet to come. I get to the checkout, I strike up a conversation with the sales associate while they scan my merchandise, I swipe my credit card, we talk some more, eventually they finish, they hand me my receipt, then with my trendy vacuum and the rest of my merchandise in tow, I leave. I get home about 20 minutes later and I start looking for my $60 gift card. I cannot find it. I started to think I must have left it at the store, which of course immediately annoyed me because that meant a trip back to the store to get it (rework is not a favorite pastime for me). I double-checked my receipt before hopping back in the car, only to find out I had not been charged for the vacuum! What??? Well, here is the choice: do I return it or keep it? It seems obvious, right?

I have presented this scenario to classes, at presentations, and even over dinner with friends. Not surprisingly, people have shared with me the many similar stories they have experienced, from vacuums to airplane tickets to just getting change from the hot dog vendor. Also not surprisingly, the answers to how people handle the situations they have been put in, are quite varied indeed. Some people would say “Well it is their fault, so it is free for me!” Others would say, “You must return it, golden rule you know.” Still more have put on their business analysis thinking caps and said “What are the impacts of returning it vs. not returning it? Does anyone really get hurt?” The decisions we make are impacted by many things including: our personal definition of ethics, our value and belief systems, cultural influences and more. Ethics, it seems, change, whether it be personal, corporate or even situational. But should they? Are there really shades of grey in ethics?

In the case of the missing gift card, as I am driving back to the store, my business analyst mentality comes out in full swing. “I need to take the vacuum back, anything else would be theft.” “What if the sales associate actually gets fired because I do bring it back? After all, they might not know unless I bring it back.” “Will the sales associate get fired if I don’t?” A dozen other things rattle through my mind and I start to create a mental grid of pros and cons. The bottom line is, I need to bring it back for a number of reasons. 1. Honesty and transparency are greatly important to me – even when people are not sure they want to hear it. If I am not, how will people trust me in turn? 2. Theft is what it is whether it is a dollar or a million. 3. The impact to shareholders and the company can be profound. If everyone believed that taking a dollar is okay, that company won’t likely be around next year. Imagine if it were $60? 4. It is actually not my job to protect the sales associate even though my instinct is to do so. I have to trust that the system the retailer put in place is fair for the shopper and employee alike. I have to trust that people will see it was a mistake that can be easily corrected.

The end result? I took the vacuum back, purchased it, got my gift card, profusely stood up for the sales associate (because I have know this person for awhile and I think they are really great). I found out much later the employee was not fired because I had indeed, brought the vacuum back. The easy wrong had too many strings attached to it and since I am a firm believer in karma… the difficult right is the only choice.

The easy wrong is just that – easy. It is like the little white lie. It is easy to push aside because the perception is that no one gets harmed in the process and therefore it is okay. The trickle-down effect of this can be staggering. I am betting there are some Uber BAs out there that can calculate the costs and impacts associated with this kind of behavior. In the end, I know that taking the easy wrong is a short-term, almost feel good result vs. the long-term decision brings peace of mind.

These “difficult” decisions are all around us and are not limited to financial or material gain. You make these decisions about family, friends, your career, and more. The question you should ask yourself is: “Am I who I thought I was, or am I something less?” This will guide you to the decision you make – knowing who you are. I am not striving to be perfect – just fair. Does that mean that all of the decisions you must make as a business analyst will be easy? Will everyone agree to those decisions? No, but if you do so in good faith you can sleep well at night knowing you did the right thing no matter how difficult it might have been.

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