Tuesday, April 3, 2012

an ethical dilemma (lyn)

Meredith has an expression, “If you do the right thing, you won’t have regrets.”  It’s a simple, but meaningful, thought.  Yet sometimes it’s not so simple to follow.  It’s often easy to justify doing the wrong thing, despite knowing what the right thing is.  If you need to ask a friend, “What do you think I should do,” in your heart you already know. You’re just looking for permission to do the wrong thing.

I get a call last week from a research company asking me if I’d be interested in participating in a focus group.  $125 for 90 minutes of giving my opinion.  Of course I’ll do it.  The person then asks some qualifying questions.   When she doesn’t like my answers, she provides her own.

Screener: Do you, or does anyone in your house, drink grape juice?
Me: No.
Screener:  Hmm.  Did you ever drink grape juice?
Me:  Sure, but that was before I realized how much sugar was in it.
Screener:  (Long pause).  Okay, so you don’t drink it every it day now, but maybe three or four times a week, right?
Me:    Ahhh, sure.
Screener:  Okay, so you’ll remember that you drink it a few times a week?
Me:  I guess so.
Screener:  Before the focus group, be sure to go out and buy some grape juice, try a couple of brands, like Y and Z. 
Me:  Okay.
Screener:  Because you used to drink a lot of Brand Y but then you changed and now only drink Brand Z.  Okay?
Me:  Okay.
Screener:  Can you remember that?

Then yesterday, just to be sure, I get a reminder call. 

Screener: Hi, Lyn, I just want to make sure you’re all set for tomorrow, and that you remember what we discussed.
Me: Yes, I’m ready.
Screener:  Okay, good.  Now they are going to ask you how many times you have purchased Brands Y and Z in your last ten grape juice purchases.  Tell them you have purchased Brand Z about 8 times and Brand Y twice.  Okay?
Me:  Sure.  (I assume this call is not being taped).

I prepare for the focus group by going to the grocery store and taking note of the nutritional contents (exactly the same), price (Brand Z was slightly cheaper), and packaging (Brand Y was much better) of the two brands. 

Around seven I get an email from the screener.  She’s sent me (and presumably others) a list of questions we’ll be asked and the answers we should give.  She even includes this message,

So - shhh - here are the questions and the answers.  


I could really use the $125, and know I could add insight to the group, but the research company doing the screening is truly unethical.

I call M and we hatch a plan.  I won’t go to the group and I’ll call the sponsoring company and let them know.  As we are discussing this, we find the website of the research company.  Suddenly M says, “I gotta go.  I’ll call you back.”

A few minutes later she does.  “Lyn, I spoke to the woman who owns the company.  She sounds genuine and really concerned.  Call her.  Don’t call the company.  She recently hired a new screener.  She is so upset.  She’s spent 30 years building this company and is outraged at the abuse.”

I trust M’s judgment and call the owner, a bit amazed that M actually called her.  It’s 11 at night and the owner is anxiously awaiting my call.  M is right.  The owner is upset.  Her rogue screener is a new employee.  She can’t thank me enough.  I’ve protected her reputation, maybe her company.  She is very grateful. 

I think again of Meredith’s mantra and crawl in bed with a clean conscience.  Though I still could have used the $125.

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