In an everchanging world, it’s important that an association’s board of directors prioritizes adapting to change. Creating an ethically sound process for board rulings, whether minor or major, is vital. I will be breaking down a strategy of using an ethical decision-making framework highlighted in the article, “Ethics in Board Decision Making”.

The article defines ethics as “a field that seeks to answer the practical question: What ought we to do? – a question that applies not just to individuals, but to organizations and – of course – boards.” Ethics are commonplace principles of right and wrong, according to our rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, and virtues.

Ethical Lenses

According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, there are four ethical lenses:

  1. General influences – how an issue impacts an organization as a participant in society. For example, this would pertain to issues such as climate change.
  2. The board’s collective culture and character – the purpose, values, and principles of the organization.
  3. Interpersonal relationships and reasoning – how the dynamics of the boardroom influence decisions.
  4. The individual director – the motivations, biases, and reasoning of each board member.

The article suggested that boards should consider using ethical decision-making framework for decisions that are not concrete or in a gray area. There are many frameworks available online, although using one made precisely for boards would be most beneficial, as all the terminology will apply. To help, review your association’s mission and vision, their code of conduct, and any other relevant policies.

Five Steps in Decision-Making Framework

  1. Frame: define and understand the nature of the issue
  2. Shape: develop options that could resolve the issue
  3. Evaluate: apply values and principles
  4. Refine: identify and eliminate weaknesses
  5. Act: bring the decision into effect

First step, frame. As a board, break down the nature of the issue by asking what the facts are and how they reflect the association’s vision and mission.

The second step is to shape, which is where everyone must get creative. With this step you are coming up with solutions to resolve the issue at hand. Make sure that everyone has the chance to pitch in and remember, no idea is a bad idea.

The third step is to evaluate. Take a few of the best solutions and evaluate them against the associations core values and principals.

The fourth step is to refine. Review and address any shortcomings the preferred solution might have. This allows the board to reflect on the decision that is being made and prepare for anyone who would like to challenge the decision.

The final step, act. This step is to implement the decision the board has come to. Once you have enacted any such change, monitor the outcome and offer reasons for the decision regardless of whether it is challenged or not.

As a board leader, it may be beneficial to read my colleague’s article, Board Chair, Doing it Right!

In Conclusion

Placing ethical decision making at the forefront of your board’s rulings ensures that your associations members feel heard and seen in a measurable way. Introducing this to a board will open a new door of understanding and equality to all board level decisions, and, in turn, will flood ethicality into every aspect of the association.

For more information on ethics, read my colleague’s article, Association Ethics for Staff and Volunteers.