• Tremaine Du Preez

The challenge

Every company is a decision-making factory and these decisions determine, not only the success of the organisation but public perception of it. All pharmaceutical companies have extensive codes of ethics and patient-centred practices, so standing out in this area and making a real change is a challenge. We worked with Company P, a global pharmaceutical wanting to change negative perceptions of the pharma industry in the market by making a tangible difference in the way they worked from the top down and the inside out.

The solution

They knew that they had good people working for them and a solid ethics programme, so decision making is where they focussed. What could they give their teams to help them make the most ethical decisions they could? Firstly, they stopped using the term doing the right thing. As a large multinational, what was the right thing in a particular circumstance to an employee in China might be different to what an employee in Brazil might think is the right thing to do in similar circumstances. What biases did almost 10 000 employees harbour and how could they avoid these in decision making?

Values are core biases that differ vastly across nationalities, generations and individuals and so their ethical decision-making process began by asking all employees to get clear on their own values and where these weren’t aligned with clear corporate values. Leaders were trained to help employees do this and so were their newly trained ethical decision-making coaches. After exploring how ethical dilemmas were tackled in the organisation and what their decision-making persona was, we proceeded to build a decision-making strategy that would help employees identify an ethical dilemma, ensure they are solving the correct problem, identify stakeholders and explore impacts on those stakeholders over time.

Requesting opinions on the decision under consideration from a superior, a colleague with a different viewpoint and a third colleague with no stake in the decision at all was also part of it. Together, these steps allow decision makers to thoroughly explore the problem, test their assumptions and agree on stakeholders and current and future impacts all whilst rooting their discussion in organisational values. The real power of this framework was that it allowed them to identify assumptions that different team members could unknowing bring to the problem domain.

This process was soon adopted by the senior management team for strategic decisions.