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System Of Inquiry Info

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Two Broad Areas of Business Ethics

1. Managerial mischief. Madsen and Shafritz, in their book "Essentials of Business Ethics" (Penguin Books, 1990) further explain that "managerial mischief" includes "illegal, unethical, or questionable practices of individual managers or organizations, as well as the causes of such behaviors and remedies to eradicate them." There has been a great deal written about managerial mischief, leading many to believe that business ethics is merely a matter of preaching the basics of what is right and wrong. More often, though, business ethics is a matter of dealing with dilemmas that have no clear indication of what is right or wrong.

2. Moral mazes. The other broad area of business ethics is "moral mazes of management" and includes the numerous ethical problems that managers must deal with on a daily basis, such as potential conflicts of interest, wrongful use of resources, mismanagement of contracts and agreements, etc.

Business ethics is now a management discipline. Business ethics has come to be considered a management discipline, especially since the birth of the social responsibility movement in the 1960s. In that decade, social awareness movements raised expectations of businesses to use their massive financial and social influence to address social problems such as poverty, crime, environmental protection, equal rights, public health and improving education. An increasing number of people asserted that because businesses were making a profit from using our country's resources, these businesses owed it to our country to work to improve society. Many researchers, business schools and managers have recognized this broader constituency, and in their planning and operations have replaced the word "stockholder" with "stakeholder," meaning to include employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community.

The emergence of business ethics is similar to other management disciplines. For example, organizations realized that they needed to manage a more positive image to the public and so the recent discipline of public relations was born. Organizations realized they needed to better manage their human resources and so the recent discipline of human resources was born. As commerce became more complicated and dynamic, organizations realized they needed more guidance to ensure their dealings supported the common good and did not harm others -- and so business ethics was born.

Note that 90% of business schools now provide some form of training in business ethics. Today, ethics in the workplace can be managed through use of codes of ethics, codes of conduct, roles of ethicists and ethics committees, policies and procedures, procedures to resolve ethical dilemmas, ethics training, etc.

10 Myths About Business Ethics

Business ethics in the workplace is about prioritizing moral values for the workplace and ensuring behaviors are aligned with those values -- it's values management. Yet, myths abound about business ethics. Some of these myths arise from general confusion about the notion of ethics. Other myths arise from narrow or simplistic views of ethical dilemmas.

1. Myth: Business ethics is more a matter of religion than management. Diane Kirrane, in "Managing Values: A Systematic Approach to Business Ethics," (Training and Development Journal, November 1990), asserts that "altering people's values or souls isn't the aim of an organizational ethics program -- managing values and conflict among them is ..."

2. Myth: Our employees are ethical so we don't need attention to business ethics. Most of the ethical dilemmas faced by managers in the workplace are highly complex. Wallace explains that one knows when they have a significant ethical conflict when there is presence of a) significant value conflicts among differing interests, b) real alternatives that are equality justifiable, and c) significant consequences on "stakeholders" in the situation. Kirrane mentions that when the topic of business ethics comes up, people are quick to speak of the Golden Rule, honesty and courtesy. But when presented with complex ethical dilemmas, most people realize there's a wide "gray area" when trying to apply ethical principles.

3. Myth: Business ethics is a discipline best led by philosophers, academics and theologians. Lack of involvement of leaders and managers in business ethics literature and discussions has led many to believe that business ethics is a fad or movement, having little to do with the day-to-day realities of running an organization. They believe business ethics is primarily a complex philosophical debate or a religion. However, business ethics is a management discipline with a programmatic approach that includes several practical tools. Ethics management programs have practical applications in other areas of management areas, as well. (These applications are listed later on in this document.)

4. Myth: Business ethics is superfluous -- it only asserts the obvious: "do good!" Many people react that codes of ethics, or lists of ethical values to which the organization aspires, are rather superfluous because they represent values to which everyone should naturally aspire. However, the value of a codes of ethics to an organization is its priority and focus regarding certain ethical values in that workplace. For example, it's obvious that all people should be honest. However, if an organization is struggling around continuing occasions of deceit in the workplace, a priority on honesty is very timely -- and honesty should be listed in that organization's code of ethics. Note that a code of ethics is an organic instrument that changes with the needs of society and the organization.

5. Myth: Business ethics is a matter of the good guys preaching to the bad guys. Some writers do seem to claim a moral high ground while lamenting the poor condition of business and its leaders. However, those people well versed in managing organizations realize that good people can take bad actions, particularly when stressed or confused. (Stress or confusion are not excuses for unethical actions -- they are reasons.) Managing ethics in the workplace includes all of us working together to help each other remain ethical and to work through confusing and stressful ethical dilemmas.

6. Myth: Business ethics in the new policeperson on the block. Many believe business ethics is a recent phenomenon because of increased attention to the topic in popular and management literature. However, business ethics was written about even 2,000 years ago -- at least since Cicero wrote about the topic in his On Duties. Business ethics has

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