A Framework for Understanding Organizational Ethics

Essay by ibicaUniversity, Master's April 2004

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A Framework for Understanding Organizational Ethics

Organizational ethics is one of the most important, yet perhaps one of the most overlooked and misunderstood concepts in corporate America and schools of business. Organizational ethics initiatives have not been effectively implemented by many corporations, and there is still much debate concerning the usefulness of such initiatives in preventing ethical and legal misconduct. Simultaneously, business schools are attempting to teach courses and/or integrate organizational ethics into their curricula without general agreement about what should be taught, or how it should be taught.

Societal norms require that businesses assume responsibility and ensure that ethical standards are properly implemented on a daily basis. Such a requirement is not without controversy. Some business leaders believe that personal moral development and character are all that are needed for effective organizational ethics. These business leaders are supported by certain business educators who believe ethics initiatives should arise inherently from corporate culture and that hiring ethical employees will limit unethical behavior within the organization.

A contrary position, and the one espoused here, is that effective organizational ethics can only be achieved by proactive leadership whereby employees from diverse backgrounds are provided a common understanding of what is defined as ethical behavior through formal training, thus creating an ethical organizational climate. In addition, changes are needed in the regulatory system, in the organizational ethics initiatives of business schools, and in societal approaches to the development and implementation of organizational ethics in corporate America. According to Richard L. Schmalensee, Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, the question is, "How can we produce graduates who are more conscious of their potential . . . and their obligation as professionals to make a positive contribution to society?" He stated that business schools should be held partly responsible for the cadre...