By John L. Rickert, CWS-VI

Do you have employees? Do you have customers? Then you’ll love this product.

Ever get that phone call from the field or the production line that gives you that deep-down, gut-wrenching feeling? Then you’ll want this product.

Have you ever “heard through the grapevine” something that makes you wonder about the integrity or honesty of your fellow workers? Then you’ll need this product.

A product of history
The history of ethical problems goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, with man having always had his share of dishonesty, con artists, shysters, fly-by-nights, etc. More recently, we’ve experienced modern forms of these activities: overzealous telemarketing, scare tactics in advertising, unethical sales techniques, and manufacturing shortcuts, just to name a few.

So what is this product, you ask? It’s a training system to help employers and employees gain awareness of, and potential solutions to, some of the ethical situations that can arise in today’s workplace. It consists of a video movie that presents a number of ethical situations along with a set of discussion questions designed for the participants as well as the discussion leader. During the video, numerous breaks in the scenarios are presented to give participants time to discuss each topic. The course—designed by professionals in the industry—is comprehensive, instructive and fun.

Bearing fruit for all
Fortunately, all of us will have access to this product. Through nearly two years of work by committees, dedicated professionals and the Water Quality Association (WQA) leadership, the “WQA Ethics Mystery Theater” is now, finally, a reality. The WQA Ethics Committee and Educational Services Committee have, through the years, consistently been faced with the task of designing some form of training on ethics that engenders a proper sense of professionalism in our industry.

A few ethics questions have always been included in different certification exams. Many successful presentations have also been given at state, regional and national conventions. These were always beneficial in getting attendees involved in industry issues; but, unfortunately, only penetrated a small portion of the WQA membership.

The exciting part of doing committee work is seeing projects come to fruition. This one in particular will have far-reaching and long-lasting positive effects for WQA members, company personnel and others throughout the industry. The design, development and construction of this course involved a task force with members of both the Ethics and the Educational Services committees, working throughout 1999 and 2000 to put this project together. Planning, discussion, and a special meeting took place at the 1999 WQA Convention. This was followed up by a conference call to finalize the direction and make plans for its presentation. All Ethics Education Task Force members were asked to script potential ethical situations and present them at WQA’s Mid-Year Leadership Conference in Point Clear, Ala., last September.

Different points of view
If you’ve never sat in on an active committee planning session, you’d have been amazed at the Point Clear meeting—there was an energetic participation rarely seen in committee. As we moved through the ideas being presented, all of us realized we were onto something hot…. a topic each of us obviously had a passion for.

Designing this course was similar, in ways, to designing a new exam.
The hardest part of writing exam questions is not forging the question itself. Nor is it having the correct answer. The hardest part is selecting the other choices. In crafting questions covering ethics, our challenge was magnified, as all of us have grown up in different homes, environments, religions, countries, etc. Our training in choosing rights and wrongs sometimes vary only slightly, and at other times are radically different. Thus, where ethics are concerned, many times there are no definitive right or wrong answers.

Much of our discussion at Point Clear exemplified this diversity. Discussion with your peers when you take this course will, inevitably, show you some of these differences as well.

Questions and answers
Ethical questions covered by this course include the following:

  • How do people make ethical decisions and when do they know it’s an ethical problem?
  • Is it a business decision or an ethical issue?
  • Once you decide it’s ethical, where do you go for ethical guidance or decision-making?
  • What role does management play? What role should it play?
  • What role do you play?
  • How do you interact with your fellow workers to solve dilemmas?

Judy Grove, WQA’s educational director, took this input from the task force, rewrote and expanded upon it. Within the course are numerous scenarios developed from the concepts discussed. While taking the course, the creativity and sense of humor she instilled are key components that keeps participants involved while working through subject matter some would consider mundane. Other concepts within came directly from exposure to the water treatment industry’s challenges.

Next, a production company needed to be chosen that would effectively convey our purpose. American Film Production was awarded the contract. Producer David Barth had experience in filming training videos and had worked with Grove on previous projects. The script writing, casting, production and editing were completed in time for the premier at the 2000 convention in Long Beach, Calif., last March.

The premier was a resounding success. Comments from participants are interspersed throughout this article. The only thing missing was the workbook and additional discussion.

Audience participation
Whoa, now wait a minute! Discussion questions and workbook, you ask? Well, we did call this a training system. And yes, we’ve included a workbook to maintain focus and relate conversation with the many facets of ethical decisions. The industry now has a tool absolutely every one of us—from the dedicated, progressive employee, to the team leader, to larger groups or as a company—can utilize for ethical decision making. We can dedicate approximately three hours, turn on the video and proceed to explore and learn from each other. How do employers and employees feel about company policies? How are sticky situations currently handled? How can performance be improved in these areas? And, maybe more importantly, how would our employer like us to handle specific situations?

The formats for discussion can be limited to just one setting or scheduled as subsequent meetings. Other items in the workbook can be used as an ongoing ethics program to stress the importance of these issues and to provide continual guidance from management.

Within the workbook is a removable test sheet to be completed and returned to WQA for continuing professional development (CPD) credits. That’s right! WQA feels this subject matter is so important, you’ll earn 1.5 CPD of credits—half the required credits for your three-year re-certification cycle! Professionals currently certified will have to take the course within the next three years to maintain their certification. When newly certified people come on board, they’ll be required to take the course within their first three-year cycle.

The awesome part of this plan is its duplication of effort; it involves absolutely everyone within WQA’s Certification Program. Hopefully, those taking this course will be sharing the information with fellow workers, exposing them to the concepts of ethical behavior as well. This too, will garner more interest in all of WQA’s certification tests. As members of the Water Quality Society become certified, they too will be exposing this program to their peers.

For those in “small business” environments, we feel that this is the tool that’s been missing from your toolbox to assist in training new individuals as well as the veterans.

My first experience with this training video was with our staff meeting just prior to the WQA convention. We all felt it was a truly fun and worthwhile experience. One comment was: “One of the best staff meetings, ever.” I was amazed to see just how involved everyone got. Even those individuals typically quiet at meetings were leaning forward and getting into the discussion. We’ll do it again just as soon as we receive the workbook.

Maher Water of Stevens Point, WI also had the opportunity to use this exercise prior to Convention. With video, discussion, workbook and testing, we expect two to four hours time for course completion.

At convention, we had about five tables with six to eight people each for a roundtable discussion format. Judy Grove led the program and we all experienced a truly “charged atmosphere” that exemplified some of the diversity previously mentioned. There were also a lot of passionate comments given, showing how deep some discussions got.

By the end of this very invigorating session, I can confidently say there wasn’t a sleepy eye in the house. Everyone left with a positive feeling that this training is great addition to WQA and will be very useful on many levels.

Many thanks to Dr. Judy Grove and Anne Parissidi; also to Skip Ruedeman, Ethics Committee chairman, and Susan McKnight, Education Committee chairman. Without their leadership, dedication and involvement, this project would not have the quality it does now. Thanks, too, to all the members of the Ethics Education Task Force for their input, time and help.

About the author
John L. Rickert, who bought his first water filtration company in 1976, is president of Lil’ John’s Water Treatment Inc., a 13-year-old Kinetico dealership in Eagle, Colo. A member of the Water Quality Association since 1988, he’s a Certified Water Specialist Level 6. He’s the chairman of the WQA Educational Services Committee and the Ethics Education Task Force, serves on the Society Task Force and is a past president of Colorado WQA. Rickert can be reached at (970) 328-9283 or [email protected]

Your WQA Ethics Education Task Force members
John L. Rickert CWS-VI, Lil’ John’s Water Treatment Inc. Eagle, Colo., Chair
Susan McKnight, CWS-I, Quality Flow Inc., Northbrook, Ill.
Skip Ruedeman, CWS-III, Clear Choice Water Conditioning, Lamar, Colo.
Howard Borland, CWS-I, Howard Heating and Cooling Inc., Weaverville, N.C.
Bob Hawkins, CWS-III, Hawkins Water Tech Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
Jack Lorenzen, CWS-V, Quality Water Services Inc. Lincoln, Neb.
Bill Maher, CWS-V, Maher Water Corp., Stevens Point, Wis.
Vicki Stutzman, CWS-I, Du-Mor Water Systems Inc., Elkhart, Ind.
Alger Sutherland, Las Vegas Water Conditioning, Las Vegas, Nev.

Getting ethical
To find out more about WQA Ethics Mystery Theater and how you can take the course, contact the WQA’s Judy Grove or Anne Parissidi at (630) 505-0160.

The cost of the course kit is $____ and will include:
• Ethics video
• Discussion leader’s guide for the video
• Course workbook for recertification credit (can be ordered separately after video)
• Tear-out test sheet
• 1.5 CPD credits upon completion

“Definitely the right approach for WQA to take towards ethics.”


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