Business Conduct Training Complaints

Oh man, I’m gonna get in SO much trouble for this one. 

So I get an email this morning telling that I’ve got to watch web training video about Microsoft’s standards of business conduct.

It’s a standard corporate training video – discussion about what our standards are, and then you come to the meat of the video: Six scenarios, where you’ve got to make a judgment call about the issues associated with various things that could happen in the course of business.

Good scenarios actually – covering things like insider trading, sexual harassment, use of software purchased for work at home, etc.

But at the end of each scenario, there’s a question: “Can <the person in the scenario> do this?”

Duh!  The answer’s No!  The answer is ALWAYS “No” (ok, the sexual harassment question was “Does this scenario violate Microsoft’s sexual harassment policy?”  The answer to that one was “Yes”). 

Why is it that people who write these training videos always chose scenarios where the answer is clearly “No”?  Why not show a somewhat ambiguous scenario where the answer is “Yes”?

This isn’t restricted to Microsoft by the way.  We had a discussion about this last year at my kid brother’s high school graduation celebration – my father (a lawyer at Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna), my brother (a lawyer at Weil, Gotshaw & Manges), and my uncle (a lawyer at Hale and Dorr) had a discussion about the ethics training that the bar association requires that all lawyers receive (we were discussing a college course in ethics my brother had taken)

My father’s only comment was “These things are easy – the answer’s always that it’s unethical”.

So my question is: Why don’t they give us ambiguous ethical dilemmas in this training?  Why do the people authoring this training always give us scenarios that have a clear and obvious answer? 


Comments (10)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Because people might get the answers wrong 😛

  2. Anonymous says:

    It reminds me of management training. They have scenarios and the answer to every scenario: CONSULT HR. Of course HR teaches the class as well.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Legal thinks: If the company says don’t do something, and you do it anyway, and someone sues, then the company has covered its ass. If the company says you can do something, and you do it, and someone sues, then the company may be f****d. Courts and tribunals are notoriously random, so it’s impossible for anyone to say that some action won’t fall foul of the courts.

    HR thinks: If you are considering whether to do or say something "ethically ambiguous" to a coworker, then it is quite possible that the recipient will be genuinely offended, so you shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

    There is nobody in the company who’s going to think that exploring ethical dilemmas is remotely useful.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t pay to allow people *to think*. A developer can think and be trusted to program and develop, for the most part, but he shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions otherwise. That mindset continues into every avenue of life, inside corporate America and outside.

    In one of the parenting books I read oh so many years ago (and now laugh at; who can teach you how to handle your child?) they mentioned that children, and people, remember what they’re told. If you tell a child "don’t reach for that apple" he’ll remember not to reach for the apple. If you tell a child "don’t reach for that apple or you’ll get in trouble" — the child will begin by remembering the entire situation but eventually will only remember "you’ll get in trouble." Not how, why, or what. And he’ll see the apple and reach… In effect you want to keep things simple.

    By keeping the yes and no out of the decision they’re teaching you that the answer is no. Period. Those grey areas aren’t to be explored or reasoned with. If the matter is close enough to black to be grey then the answer is "No." Don’t take a chance, don’t do it.

    It is the safest course to take.

    I have a problem with policies and absolutes myself. Zero tolerance, for instance. Children being expelled from school for having aspirin? A child makes a toy gun out of his hand and he’s suspended for two weeks? Ridiculous. We’re afraid to ask the adults involved to make a decision, a JUDGEMENT call, so instead we apply an absolute.

    Or… I went to Blockbuster to rent a few PS2 games. I chose three. More than I usually get but I’ve been a customer of this particular Blockbuster for 8 years. I get to the counter and the gentlemen wants a new credit card to put on file because I’m renting three video games. (My old one had expired.) Two is okay, but three at once requires a credit card. Okay. How about I rent two on one transaction, and then a third on a second transaction?

    That was okay. *sigh* I didn’t rent the third. As a customer of 8 years I would’ve expected someone to recognize that and just say "it’s no problem for him." Instead I received the "sorry, it is our policy."

    All of the above point to an inability of the common person to think critically, to reason and solve the problem at hand, to apply the rules as they’re meant to be applied and not as they’re written. That inability is why your videos only show the answer the company wants to be given.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A friend of mine took an exam to recieve a CFA designation last year. When they complained about how difficult the ethics section was, I was surprised, for exactly this reason — you would think that you could just answer ‘it’s inethical’ to every question. But apparently on the CFA exams you can lose plenty of points for judging a situation as inethical that is in fact allowed under their standards.

    So presumably financial folks are more ethical than software people. 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    The same reason that almost every article that talks about exception handling uses that "divide by zero" example. It’s easier if the answer is obvious.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Lazycoder weblog &raquo; Questions with no right answers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Larry, shouldn’t you have retired and be living off your MS stock by now??

    – Andrew Hudson

    ex AH4H

  9. Anonymous says:

    Why should I have done that? I’m having too much fun 🙂

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