Ethics and Communication - Quality Management

Effective ethical behavior requires effective communication of the principles of the approach, but it further requires effective and honest communication about decisions and incidents in order to allow for ethical behaviors to be the norm. There are some issues which need to be considered.

The Concept of Single Causes

Human Error. Because of the commonality of seeking a single cause to a single event, when something goes wrong there is a tendency to seek the person or factor to blame. Once blame or fault has been assigned, the cause of the problem has been explained. here is the illusion of having solved the problem, and, since human error is inevitable and cannot be eliminated, there is nothing that one can do to prevent the problem.

Scapegoating.This is an attempt to place the blame on a single individual or technical reason for the error under consideration. There is often systematic pressure to assign responsibility for an event to an individual and when this is successful, the system then thinks in terms of punishment of the scapegoat. However, nothing has been solved. Human error is inevitable and there will always be a scapegoat. This is not only unfair to the individual but scapegoating hides the real problem - the real causes of the event have not been defined and thus could occur again. The allocation of blame allows the system to end its investigation and thus, scapegoating is a process that avoids true determination of causes.

The Concept of Multiple Causes

Usually a number of causes combine to create a particular event. Take for instance, a mother awaking to the sound of her baby crying. Air must be present to transmit the sound and the mother must be in a state to receive and acknowledge the sound even though she is sleeping. One of the factors that makes the mother receptive is that she is responsible for the baby as the mother of the child. thus, rather than a single cause giving rise to the event of the mother awaking, there are multiple causes and all must be present for the event to occur.

Degrees of Freedom

Taking the Singapore example, Churchill believed that there were several causes, any one of which could have resulted in a different outcome. This gives rise to the recognition that there are different paths and decisions that one can take in many situations. The outcome is not, therefore, predetermined and is subject to freedom of those involved to select. If, on the other hand, there is a single set of events then freedom is limited to those events alone and they predetermine the outcome. thus, where scapegoating has taken place for example, it appears that a single set of causes has lead to the undesirable outcome.

If one is able to analyses a situation and identify more alternative paths or freedom to make choice, more responsibility is placed on those involved in determining the outcome. On the other hand, the more freedom of choice that exists the greater is the ability to determine the outcome of events.

Multiple Responsibility

The idea of multiple causes gives rise to that of multiple responsibilities. This does not reduce the responsibility of a single individual or factor, but extends the responsibility of all individuals or factors. Take for example, responsibility for the personal relationship between two people. Both are responsible for the state of the relationship. If one person accepts one hundred per cent responsibility, and the other person no responsibility, is the relationship likely to remain sound?

The outcome of a particular set of circumstances is rarely predetermined because of the multiplicity of causes, and therefore, the outcome can be affected by planning. Such planning should serve to Optimise a particular situation or prevent the occurrence of an undesirable outcome. thus, all factors or individuals that may have a bearing on the outcome should be considered or be part of the planning process.

Passing The Buck

The saying “The buck stops here” was originated by President Harry Truman as a way of saying that if a problem reached his desk, The would not pass it on to anyone else he would not ‘pass the buck’. Unfortunately, this well intentioned expression has lead, where there are several levels of organizational authority, to every level passing on responsibility until the highest level is reached. thus, if the buck stops at the highest level, it doesn’t stop anywhere else. This means that if the highest level in the company is accorded responsibility for all that happens with respect to the company, no-one lower in the chain has to accept responsibility. This is unacceptable because at the worst, responsibility lower down the organizational hierarchy is not recognised, and at best vacillation occurs because the buck is passed upwards for a decision.

The new phrase should be, “The buck stops here and everywhere else as well”, denoting shared responsibility. It is proposed that in every instance of poor corporate decision making there was, at some level, information that could have resulted in a different decision.

Failures of information flow

Failures of information flow


Communication is much more than the physical transmission of information. It starts with the will to communicate. To be successful both the transmitter and receiver must believe in the need for the communication.

If the transmitter of information does not believe that the information will be acted upon or that it is not wanted (shoot the messenger), it will not be passed onthe motivation to communicate will not exist.

If the receiver of the information believes that he or she already has all the answers to a particular problem, the information will not be truly received. Also, there will be no motivation to seek information if there is no understanding of the requirement for information.

If all levels in the organisation believe that the buck stops at the top because that is where all the power is and where all the important decisions are made, then there will be no communication of importance at lower levels. If this is the case, the organisation will be dysfunctional in terms of effective decision making.


An organization, in which all levels believe in the need for communication and for that information to be acted upon at an appropriate level, is one that empowers its employees. There is no point at which information is blocked and the belief in the organisation is that “the buck stops here and everywhere else as well”. In such an organisation everyone has the responsibility to act, pass, seek and receive information.

This is a proactive process in which those receiving information actively question and seek additional information from those in a position to give it. Those sending information actively ensure that the information is acted upon, and if it is repeatedly ignored it may be necessary for them to take the information to others in the organisation.

The passing of information should not be seen as passing the buck which is refusing to take action when it is the person’s responsibility to act.


This free low of information in an organisation could be adversely affected by organizational structure. If so, the structure should be changed. However, the organizational structure alone will not ensure a free low of informationthe will to communicate must be there too. This is, therefore, a cultural issue. Everyone in the organisation has the responsibility to act on, pass, seek and receive information and there is no possibility to pass the responsibility to anyone else.

The Manager’s Role

The role of the manager is to ensure that information lows freely and speedily, for information is the life blood of the organisation on which decisions are made. If the information is poor, takes too long or is blocked, the function of the organisation is impaired.

The Manager as an Educator. It follows that the manager must ensure that the free low of information continues. In the manager’s role as coach, education is the key to ensure that everyone within his or her responsibility understands the need and mechanisms for effective communication. By the manager’s actions will subordinates understand the need to take action where appropriate and be part of the communication chain. The manager must become a role model for this type of behavior which, ideally should start with the CEO and be actively supported by the whole senior management team.

Thus, this process of education towards the achievement of full and free low of information is the heart of empowerment and the organisation functioning as a holistic process rather than a hierarchy based on functional power bases. This links with the Total Quality view that everyone in an organisation should be part of and understand their contribution to achieving the mission and vision of the company.

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