Editorials on Ethics
Another free to use public interest web site on the
Mosaic Portal Network

Created by

Kevin Beck


Ethics can be dangerous to your career. The danger may come not from your own ethics but from the ethics of people around you and the organization of which you are a part.
At work, you may be called upon to do things that turn out to be unethical or even illegal. What should you do if that occurs?
According to the old adage, “The best defense is a good offense.” And the best defense against involvement in wrongdoing is being prepared for organizational challenges that will inevitably test your personal values, moral beliefs, and commitment to doing the right thing.

I believe that most people use a faulty model of unethical behavior because they think that “bad” people do “bad” things.

In many cases, however, wrongdoing is done by people who are viewed as good employees, good managers, and even good leaders. The real challenge is understanding why “good” people do “bad” things. One reason is that they fail to recognize that the problem they are confronting has an ethical component and is not solely a marketing or finance or other kind of problem. As a result, they often lack the ability to analyze the problem from an ethical perspective.

The goal of ethics training is not to change people’s ethics — that is, make bad people good — but, rather, to enhance people’s sensitivity to ethical issues and provide them with tools for resolving ethical dilemmas effectively.

Most individuals and companies do not set out to make a defective product or to engage in massive fraud. Very often, these situations begin in small ways, with very small steps that seem inconsequential. It is also important for people to understand that most ethics scandals typically involve a number of people who are included in the decision-making process at each stage. As a result, responsibility becomes diffused among these individuals, making it difficult to attribute blame to or impose accountability on any particular person.

Although people may feel uncomfortable with what is happening as they move down the “slippery slope,” they convince themselves that “so long as it is legal, it is ethical” or that they are doing what is expected of them.
Rationalization — the ability to justify our behavior — is one of our greatest moral failings. (John R. Boatright, Raymond C. Baumhart Professor of Business Ethics at Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University Chicago. It was published in the September/October 2013 issue of the Financial Analysts Journal)


Our business ethics debate opened with the suggestion that on a scale of 0-100, where 100 is the worst; business ethics are closer to 100 than zero. But is the situation getting worse of better? Business ethics had reached its nadir in the mid noughties, it was argued, but was now starting to improve. Giving the debate an historical context, it was suggested that the role and responsibilities of companies have changed. When the Dutch created the company in the 16th century, a business could not be incorporated without a declaration of purpose. Built into this declaration were the company’s obligations to society, creating a reciprocal pact to benefit both. Preserving this declaration of purpose, it was argued, is essential to promoting good business ethics. This model was adopted by the English and was widely used until the early 1900s when the State of Delaware removed the need for a declaration of purpose, in order to attract businesses to incorporate there. Over the next 100 years, this revised model for incorporation fuelled the rapid growth of the market economy, in particular, the emerging dominance of publically held companies. However, in the 1970s market economies started to stagnate. This, coupled with rising commodity prices, created ‘stagflation’. A view emerged, erroneously it was suggested, that growth could only be rekindled by a new focus on deregulation, privatisation and a reduction in the role of the State. In effect, this reduced the State’s willingness and ability to intervene and regulate business behaviour, leading, it was said, to a significant decline in business ethics. "

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