In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal announced that ethics courses are useless because ethics can't be taught. Although few people would turn to the Wall Street Journal as a learned expert on the teaching of ethics, the issue raised by the newspaper is a serious one: Can ethics be taught?
We all have an image of our better selves-of how we are when we act ethically or are "at our best." We probably also have an image of what an ethical community, an ethical business, an ethical government, or an ethical society should be. Ethics really has to do with all these levels-acting ethically as individuals, creating ethical organizations and governments, and making our society as a whole ethical in the way it treats everyone.
Analysts say many managers exhibit a reluctance to describe their actions in moral terms even when they are acting for moral reasons. Managers typically respond as if their actions were guided exclusively by organizational interests, practicality, and economic good sense. Although managers often disagree regarding the extent to which business activities are morally neutral their interactions in contemporary industrial societies are greatly influenced by a number of normative expectations.
Examples are given of unethical behavior or situations and the potential consequences in terms of financial, social, or legal costs. The author refers to her research on social psychology and decision making and offers her insight on building a strong organization. Four rationalizations for why employees remain silent when they encounter an ethical problem include the ideas that the behavior is standard practice and it is not their responsibility to do anything about it.
The article discusses the factors contributing to unethical behavior in business. The idea that managers do not recognize unethical behavior because of organizational systems and cognitive bias is discussed. Factors include business goals that reward unethical behavior, conflicts of interest that prevent people from identifying bad behavior when there is something to lose, the tendency to ignore unethical decisions when the outcome is good.
When Chris Knox, a top salesperson at Specialty Fleet Services, volunteers to go after the business of Armadillo Gas & Power, he decides to try a new approach. After all, no one else from SFS has succeeded with Dale Landry, Armadillo's CFO. Knox shows up at Landry's ranch, asks to photograph his beloved bull, presents the photo as a gift to Landry's wife, and engineers several other encounters before Landry learns that Knox is anything more than a charming young man.
The “bounded awareness” phenomenon causes people to ignore critical information when making decisions. Learning to expand the limits of your awareness before you make an important choice will save you from asking “How did I miss that?” after the fact.
In the aftermath of recent corporate scandals, managers and researchers have turned their attention to questions of ethics management. We identify five common myths about business ethics and provide responses that are grounded in theory, research, and business examples. Although the scientific study of business ethics is relatively new, theory and research exist that can guide executives who are trying to better manage their employees' and their own ethical behavior. We recommend that ethical conduct be managed proactively via explicit ethical leadership and conscious management of the organization's ethical culture.
There is ample discussion of MBA self-serving values in the corporate social responsibility literature, and yet empirical studies regarding the corporate manifestations and consequences of those values are scant. In a comprehensive study of major US public corporations, we find that MBA CEOs are more apt than their non-MBA counterparts to engage in short-term strategic expedients such as positive earnings management and suppression of R&D, which in turn are followed by compromised firm market valuations