Joel Kwan is a corporate lawyer based in Los Angeles, California. Currently acting as financial/legal associate for Westwood Group, a specialty finance company, Joel focuses on general regulatory compliance, creditor rights and structured finance. Visit his website to learn more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Deficit of reflective practice

Business people are always on the go, pressed by deadlines and targets. It seems that businesses have been focusing on ever shorter time frames for making decisions and assessing performance, all linked to the bottom-line. During our last reflection period with my MBA peers, we have discussed about how to slow down and take the time to reflect before acting. It's easy to say "think before you act", but it seems ever more complicated in the business arena when we here about the recent corporate scandals where initially sound, intelligent and caring individuals lose their moral compuses and try to cut corners for personal gains. How can we avoid slipping in the spiral of "ethical creeping"? Jim Schram, our guest speaker during reflection shed some light on some of the most difficult questions that has yet to be resolved in business practices in the 21st century. As former CEO of Lucent Technologies, Scrham had his share of dealing in shades of grey, never an easy task. He explained how our Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix probably changed from good to bad in a gradual, very subtle way as people with certain statuses and profiles become part of the elite and actually become more and more isolated from the "real world". This isoloation creates a sheild that may give a sensation of invulnerability. Scharm dealt with this isolation by going back to his roots in a farming towns where his family members "were not at all impressed with his new lifestyle as CEO".

Others will say that more efforts have to come from the education side, namely business schools, where ethics remain a very small portion of general curricula. Patrick O'Neill, a Toronto-based consultant mentions that business schools have five defits in terms of ethics teachings:

Deficit of reflective practice
Deficit of character development
Deficit of respect
Deficit of right use of power
Deficit of mentoring

Back to our MBA reflections, we discussed about how on a personal level we can try to navigate through greyer areas of decision-making in the business place.

1. Avoid isolation

Come back to your roots, family, friends and community, this will help you keep one foot firm on the ground.

2. Newspaper test

When hesitating about a decision, think about how would you feel if your decision made the front page the following day. If you feel uneasy, then it's a sign that the decision might not be the best for all stakeholders.

3. Take the time to reflect

Like going to the gym, reflection takes time, practice and discipline. One can only get better at it by doing it. That's exactly why we have reflection periods weekly in our MBA program.

To read more about the five deficits from Patrick O'Neill, click here.

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