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College of Information and Communications

PR Prose: Ethics can land you that next job

By Dr. Shannon Bowen, professor in the public relations sequence
Reprinted with permission from PRWeek

Do you ever feel you’ve hit a career plateau? If so, here are some strategies — with a heavy focus on ethics — that can help propel things forward.

Remember that ethics, above all, is disruptive. It moves ahead of laws and social norms expanding the boundaries of what is later considered legal, acceptable, and normal.

So using an ethical approach is a perfect way to get yourself out of a rut.

First, helping organizations or clients adapt to change is a part of our role. Contemplate how you do that. When you’re engaging in comms activities, you’re often defining what are acceptable and standard practices.

But do you branch out of the expected, question the request, rethink standard practices, and push the envelope on strategies and tactics? You should.

You can become a "future forecaster" pushing management to get ahead of the trends you’ve spotted. Asking the organization to become a thought leader is risky, but risk often brings reward. And if management are considered thought leaders, then so are you.

But if management considers your idea too far-fetched, it’s likely a competitor will move into the space within a few months. So, keeping an ear to the ground and being savvy enough to read changes is key to arriving early on the ethical scene as a thought leader.

You can further enhance your value to the organization (and clients) by contributing thought leadership as a values manager.

Some refer to values managers as culture czars, or as some other senior-level sounding title. But it's actually a role available at all levels to any manager.

The focus of the job is reminding the team of the core values they’re supposed to work towards, the codified core principles of the organization or client and what it seeks to achieve in terms of mission and vision.

How can your comms efforts incorporate those goals? A discussion of these values should be a part of all strategy meetings and even a part of your evaluation efforts.

Evaluating how values are incorporated into comm programs helps to ensure the organization doesn’t over promise and under deliver.

An important thing to do as you move forward is to always guard against ethical window dressing.

Your ethical actions must be sincere, honest, and well-intentioned. They must be undertaken with an authentic desire to do the right thing — what moral philosophers call a good will or pure moral intention.

Fortunately, this also benefits the organization you work for as well as your career.

Ethics pursued with frankness and pure intention helps legitimize our organizations, allowing them to perform a more responsible role in society.

Authentic ethical thinking and action can propel your career out of a plateau and allows you to exercise an even higher level of moral responsibility in future positions.

Acting ethically, with a persistent, consistent and even-handed approach, may not yield results overnight, but it will over time.

In my next column, I’ll continue talking about how to propel your career past a plateau using ethical issues management and creative thinking.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.