The method is a simple one. A tree or similar visual representation of the company’s business plan is laid out. Then the three or four top executives, board members, or other personnel who are charged with monitoring the business plan each separately and individually take the word “ethics,” written on a card or sticky note, and place the word where they think ethics belongs in the business scheme.
When all parties have placed the “ethics” word somewhere on the diagram, all participants are brought together and they discuss/debate why their placements differ. Then the ethical dilemma is worded carefully, and the members, all of whom are familiar with the business plan, discuss whether the dilemma falls below or above the goals of the business plan itself.
For example, if the business plan includes keeping a public profile of honesty, fairness, etc., then the ethical dilemma of profit versus public image is clarified. If, on the other hand, eliminating competition is high on the business plan, then perhaps the ethical dilemma of whether or not to make public the competition’s immoral conduct might fall below the ethical cutoff.
Admittedly, this is an oversimplification of the real problems, but the point is that most ethical dilemmas can be resolved by assessing where “ethics” sits on the ladder of importance to a company. Because so many companies put “the bottom line” at the top of their priorities, most unethical conduct goes tacitly approved.