Can an Ethics Code Change Behavior?

Article excerpt

MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANTS AND FINANCIAL MANAGERS MAY BE SUBJECTED TO

pressure to "manage" the numbers in preparing financial reports and operating or capital budgets. Usually, the rationale for such action is the achievement of an apparently worthy objective. The question is often asked, "How helpful is an ethics code in motivating behavior?"

It was this type of scenario that prompted our study to determine what significantly influences the ethical perceptions of a financial manager when confronted with an ethical dilemma. In particular, it determined what influence the IMA Standards of Ethical Conduct has on members' ethical perceptions and judgments. The study also compared this influence with that of members' personal moral philosophies (i.e., idealism or relativism) and with the corporate ethical values of their work environment. To gather information for this study, we sent a questionnaire to 1,500 randomly selected members of the IMA. A total of 580 (39%) usable responses were returned.

With 20 questions, a respondent's moral philosophy was measured to be either an "idealist' one who believes in and makes use of moral absolutes when making judgments, or a "relativist,' one who would tend to reject universal moral rules. Overall, the results show that the individuals in this study were more inclined to favor idealism rather than relativism. Responses to five questions were then used to describe the corporate culture in respondents' organizations. The results showed a rather moderate ethical environment.

To measure the effect of the IMA Standards of Ethical Conduct, respondents were asked to rate the importance of each of the 15 specific rules it contains as guiding principles in their work. …