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Ethical dilemmas: Choices on personnel

In this series we confront readers with ethical dilemmas and ask: what would you have done?

This month our case study places Antonia as the lead consultant of a mixed consultant/client team which aims to develop a new organisation structure to reduce costs and to encourage all staff to have a customer focus.

After about a month Ronnie, a senior manager seconded to work on the team, confided in Antonia that he had misgivings about the whole process and was unhappy that the likely outcome would result in some (perhaps many) of his colleagues being made redundant. Before the start of this project, he had merely been concerned privately about the future of the business and the seeming indifference of the board of directors to the opportunities and the competition. He had thought of leaving to seek a more rewarding position with a competitor but in view of Antonia's arrival he had decided to stay. Now that he saw the likely outcome, he was no longer sure that there was a place for him in the company. He didn't trust the other managers who appeared to be only interested in themselves and felt that he would have to leave. It was clear that he wanted Antonia to advise him on what he should do.

Antonia discreetly sounded out Tom, the managing director, about Ronnie. Tom was fulsome in praise of him. He described Ronnie as a rising star for whom the board had high expectations; he would undoubtedly have a key role in the new organisation. Antonia was faced with a dilemma: she could say nothing to anybody; advise Tom that Ronnie was thinking of leaving; advise Ronnie to stay; or advise him to leave on the grounds that he was unlikely to recover his enthusiasm for the company and its plans. What should she do?

Another challenge presented itself when it became clear that one of the directors, Graham, was not only incompetent but positively dangerous to the business. Many of his decisions were unsound, costly and often impractical. As the new shape of the organisation firmed up, it became clear that there would be no room for him. Retaining him was likely to jeopardise the success of the project. Respect for the organisation would be lost by retaining him.

Unfortunately, Graham was very well connected with two major customers and was related to a senior official in a government department important to the company. It was decided to increase the value of the severance package so that Graham would find it easy to accept the proposition and leave. The resultant package was far in excess of anything being offered to other redundant staff. Should Antonia agree to this or should she help to find other ways of getting rid of Graham?

You can read a commentary based on readers’ observations and what had happened in reality here.

Friday 13th November 2020
The Thinker statue