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Shades of gray

Shades of gray

Truth is a funny thing, particularly when it comes to ethical issues. What's true for me may not, in fact, be true for you. My past experiences influence my values, which influence my perception of the world.

Truth is a funny thing, particularly when it comes to ethical issues. What's true for me may not, in fact, be true for you. My past experiences influence my values, which influence my perception of the world. The realm of things that cannot be declared absolutely sweet or sour, black or white, is vast.

But some things, even some ethical things, are pretty obvious.

Don't lie.

Don't omit critical information that would change someone's view of what you're saying -- that can be the same as lying.

Don't say something for money or favors that you wouldn't say otherwise.

So, what about saying good things about a company for which you agreed to serve as a reference when it did, in fact, perform well for you. No problem there, right?

What if its performance was predicated upon pulling out all the stops to make your project successful? And what if you have reason to believe that it couldn't -- and probably wouldn't -- treat all its customers with such lavish attention? Starting to feel a bit less comfortable? Let's try another one.

We already said that you shouldn't sell a positive review for money or favors. But what if you really are positive about the product or service, and spreading the good word -- acting as a reference without regard to reward -- takes up time that might otherwise be spent on company business? Isn't it your corporate responsibility to seek some concessions or recompense for that?

With each new revelation of corporate wrong-doing -- Enron, Tyco, WorldCom -- the volume on the business-ethics discussion goes up a notch. While the spotlight now is on financial transactions and reporting, everything -- including the relationships between CIOs and their vendors, the things they say and do about and for each other -- will come under scrutiny.

There's enormous pressure on all executives to find new ways to make money and cut costs in this stalled economy. For CIOs, this has meant getting more from technology providers for less.

Serving as a customer reference can give a CIO leverage that's important right now. But you should think long and hard about what you're willing to do in return. If it means providing other CIOs with anything less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, you're wading in dangerous waters.

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