Professional Ethics in the Department of Defense

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National Archives photo, released

Professional ethics often seem straightforward when we witness the aftermath of someone else’s bad decisions. Hindsight makes it easy to determine what was right and what was wrong. However, ethics are most important in the small, everyday choices. The small and mundane are the drivers behind the big missteps.

A memo on ethics from Secretary of Defense James Mattis put the spotlight on ethics. The message is clear: don’t compromise ethics in the quest to take initiative and protect our country. What’s great about his message is that it’s not about dotting i’s and crossing t’s in order to maintain the right image. It’s important to be ready to make the right choice when confronted with the harder decisions. It’s also important to practice ethics in the little things, so when the little things become big things, you’re ready.

Here are four simple areas to scrutinize your personal ethics:

Rethink quality.

High quality is often considered a nice to have feature or something that makes clients want to work with us. But it is actually a question of ethics. Whether you find yourself on the contractor or civilian side, it’s all taxpayer money, and we owe it to the taxpayers to never skimp on the quality of a product or hours worked.

Rethink working hours.

Work-life balance is important for all of us. And working for the government can be frustrating with red tape or what feels like old mentalities; however, don’t skimp on your hours that are paid by taxpayers. Hold the weight of your role in the government with proper respect. As important as whether or not you clock in or out appropriately, the amount, your commitment to the task during those working hours also matters.

Rethink processes and procedures.

Instead of balking at all the processes in place, consider why they are there. What is the intent behind the processes and procedures. You don’t have to always follow the process just for process sake – that’s not in the best interest of the organization. Determine why your agency or company has established various checks and balances before you find a workaround. Processes and procedures are usually created for a purpose. Don’t disregard them until you’re sure your own method still accomplishes the objective.

Rethink training.

Required, regular on-going training is often a pain. Let’s just be honest. Training is often poorly developed and little better than a boring PowerPoint presentation. It is annoying to stop your workday and get your training records caught up. Consider the goal of the training. There are generally ethic concerns or capabilities gaps the training is designed to address. If you focus on the end goal, rather than the annoying tasks, you may be able to put required training into perspective, and make it more effective.

In a fast paced environment that’s often under scrutiny, it’s easy to focus on the path of least resistance or what will look okay to higher-ups and the media. Mattis makes it clear that doing what’s right needs to happen regardless of who is watching.

Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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