Are you confident in your organisation’s ability to negotiate difficult ethical terrain? The Ethics Centre’s Decision Lab is a robust process that can help expand your ethical decision-making capability.

Imagine you run a not-for-profit that helps people experiencing problem gambling. You are approached by a high-net-worth individual connected to the gambling industry who is interested in making a substantial donation to your organisation. Funding is always hard to come by and you know you could reach many more people in need with this money. Do you accept the donation? 

Or imagine you are the CEO of a publicly listed consulting firm that is deciding whether to take on a new client in the fossil fuel industry. You suspect it would be unpopular with younger members of your staff and some of your other clients, but it’s a very lucrative contract and it would significantly boost your bottom line ahead of reporting season. Do you take on the client? 

What if you sat on the board of a major corporation that is planning to make a public statement urging the government to adopt a new progressive social policy. The proposed policy does not impact your business directly, but a majority of your staff support it. However, you personally have misgivings about the policy and suspect some other employees do as well. Do you put your name on the public statement? 

What would you do in each of these situations? If you do have an answer, could you explain how you arrived at your decision? Could you defend it in public? Could you defend it on the front page of the newspaper? 

Dealing with ethically-charged situations like these is never easy. Not only do our decisions have a material impact on multiple stakeholders, but we also need to be able to communicate and justify them. This is complicated by the fact that many of the influences on our ethical decision-making are implicit, meaning we risk making decisions based on unexamined values or we might struggle to explain how we arrived at a particular conclusion. 

This is why The Ethics Centre has developed Decision Lab, a comprehensive ethical decision-making toolkit that surfaces the implicit elements in ethical decision-making and provides a robust process to navigate the ethical dimensions of critical decisions for organisations big and small. 

Decision Lab

The Decision Lab process begins by clarifying the organisation’s core purpose, values and principles. The purpose includes the organisation’s overall mission, which is what it is aiming to achieve, and its vision, which is what the world looks like when it has achieved it. The values are what the organisation believes to be good and the principles are the guiderails that guide decision-making. 

Even organisations that have published mission statements and codes of conduct will find that employees will have different understandings of purpose, values and principles, and these differences can influence ethical decision-making in a profound way. By bringing these perspectives to the surface, the Decision Lab process enables the diversity to be recognised and engaged with constructively rather than leaving it implicit and having different individuals pulling in different directions. 

The Decision Lab also explores the process of decision-making, testing critical assumptions and taking multiple perspectives into account to ensure no key elements are overlooked. Take the hypothetical above about the not-for-profit. It would be easy to focus on the issue of whether it is hypocritical to accept money from those associated with gambling in order to fight problem gambling. But it is also crucial to consider the impact on other stakeholders, such as the beneficiaries of the not-for-profit’s services, their families and communities, or consider whether the perception of hypocrisy might affect future fundraising. 

Shadow values

The process also acknowledges common biases and influences that can derail decision-making. A common one is the organisation’s Shadow Values which are the hidden uncodified norms and expectations promoted often out of awareness that can influence how the entire organisation operates. For example, many organisations explicitly subscribe to values such as integrity, but the shadow values might promote loyalty, which could prevent an employee from calling out a senior manager who is misrepresenting the work being done for a client.  

The Decision Lab then provides a checklist for decisions that can be used as a ‘no regrets test,’ ensuring that all relevant elements have been considered. For example, should the consulting firm reject the contract with the fossil fuel company, it could suffer a backlash from shareholders, who argue that the board has a responsibility to create value for shareholders within the law rather than pursue political agendas. The Decision Lab checklist would ensure that such eventualities are considered before the decision was made. 

The decision-making process is then stress tested against a variety of hypothetical scenarios, such as those above, that are tailored to the organisation’s mission and circumstances. This allows participants to put ethical decision-making into practice, engage in constructive deliberation and learn how to evaluate options and develop implementation plans as a team. 

On completion of the Decision Lab, The Ethics Centre provides a customised decision-making framework that is tailored to the organisation and its needs for future reference. 

Open book

The Decision Lab is a powerful and practical tool for any organisation looking to improve its ethical decision-making. It also has other benefits, such as increases awareness of the lived organisational culture, including the beliefs, attitudes and practices shared amongst its people. It identifies how the current culture and systems are enabling or constraining the realisation of the organisation’s goals. 

By unifying employees around a common purpose and encouraging values-aligned behaviour, it ensures that the entire organisation is working as a unit towards a shared vision. The deliberative process also helps to build a climate of trust within the organisation, which aids in avoiding and resolving conflicts, as well as promoting good decision-making.  

Individuals and organisations are constantly making decisions that have wide-reaching impacts. The question is: are you doing it well? The Decision Lab can ensure that your organisation’s decision-making is done in an open, robust and constructive manner, producing more ethical decisions and contributing to a positive work culture.  


The Ethics Centre is a thought leader in assessing organisational cultural health and building leadership capability to make good ethical decisions. To arrange a confidential conversation contact the team at Or visit our consulting page to learn more.