Ethics are a vital part of the project manager's toolset but sometimes ethics assume a nationalistic view of life. What seems ethically correct in a broadly Christian, comfortable, Western society with well-developed welfare systems bears little resemblance to acceptable business practice in other parts of the world. It is arrogant to assume one practice is better than another. Each has developed to reflect local conditions and a view of what is acceptable in the face of wider socio-economic circumstances. The good project manager has to be realistic when it comes to cultural norms. A North American view of 'expediting payments' will not help move along a project in West Africa. Equally, if your culture won't deal with women as equal business partners, don't arrive in New York and expect to carry on in the same way.
This is an area that has the potential to be enormously disruptive. It might be more comfortable to avoid writing or thinking about it, but that would be to duck a critical issue in many projects. Culture and the resulting ethical norms tend to be more deep-seated than even legal or regulatory constraints. Realism in this context is not about asserting your personal view on your whole team or trumpeting every last person's right to freedom and individual consideration. Such approaches are risky and possibly illegal. Cultural realism is about understanding the cultural and ethical realities in which you have to work and steering a path that maintains an acceptable working environment for all stakeholders. You can't please all of the people, all of the time.
Be realistic with cultural and ethical norms. Don't assume your custom is appropriate in a different culture.
Top of Page