A Beacon of Ethical BehaviorBy
When I first joined the Villanova University crew team, our coach said he could teach us the fundamentals of rowing in an afternoon, representing about 90% of what we needed to know.
As for the remaining 10%, he said we’d need to invest a lifetime. He was right. Even now, as a master rower, I’m still learning new techniques and am constantly focused on improving my skills.
I would suggest that professional ethics (celebrated worldwide during Global Ethics Day on October 20) shares this quality. You can easily learn the basics of ethics, but mastering the subject in practice requires ongoing focus and commitment.
Most people assume that as management accounting and finance professionals, we must have professional ethics in our DNA. We’re expected to ask tough questions, identify and challenge irregularities, and always deliver the unvarnished truth. Too often, however, we face complex issues where “the right thing to do” isn’t so clear. How do we earn and maintain our well-deserved reputation for having integrity, behaving ethically, and inspiring trust?
Fortunately, IMA® members have the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. It includes overarching principles that express our values, specifically honesty, fairness, objectivity, and responsibility, as well as standards that guide our conduct—competence, confidentiality, integrity, and credibility.
Yet understanding and committing to the IMA Statement only gets us to 90%. We need to continually practice our skills and reinforce them with new learning. That is, we must factor ethical considerations into our daily decisions; integrate ethical principles into our organizations’ operations and culture; leverage peers as a sounding board; learn the stories of whistleblowers and how their companies experienced ethical lapses; and engage in webinars, live learning, role-playing, and other training opportunities.
We can also take advantage of IMA’s free, confidential Ethics Helpline to learn how the IMA Statement may apply to a specific ethical dilemma. It’s a valuable resource! After a preliminary discussion to determine the kind of ethical challenge you witnessed or are experiencing, a member of IMA’s Committee on Ethics will contact you, if you’d like, to help you understand and apply the provisions of the IMA Statement. Bear in mind, though, that the helpline isn’t a hotline to report specific ethical violations. Rather, it can give you clarity on how a particular issue relates to the IMA Statement and explain which of its principles and standards may be relevant to your situation.
Mastering professional ethics is a lifelong pursuit. It begins when you’re an accounting student and young professional, learning the fundamentals of professional ethics so you’re prepared to successfully navigate through your entry-level positions and, with hard work, pass the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam. Then, as your career progresses, you must commit yourself to learning the nuances of professional ethics and to upholding the IMA Statement in thought and deed. Over time, this practice and experience—the “other 10%”—will help you become a beacon of ethical behavior within your organization.