A Historical Perspective Approach for Practicing Managers to Improve Ethics

By McKee, Larry L. | Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, April 2004 | Go to article overview

A Historical Perspective Approach for Practicing Managers to Improve Ethics


McKee, Larry L., Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship


Executive Summary

Ethical behavior in the workplace continues to present itself as a major challenge for practicing managers. Managers often seek answers about what can be done in promoting high levels of ethical behavior in their organizations. The paper discusses and presents a historical perspective in developing a holistic and qualitative approach to ethical behavior by evaluating both organizational and individual aspects of ethics. Emerging from the qualitative evaluation, the paper provides a realistic and practical new model for practicing managers to use in their review of their organizations and its employees. Therefore, the use of the new model, in conjunction with force field analysis by practicing managers, will provide not only a strategy but also a qualitative analytical technique for improving ethical behavior and initiating appropriate change.

In the study of ethics, it becomes apparent that numerous avenues of thought may be explored. Therefore, the practicing manager must first grasp an array of ethical concepts and general issues pertaining to ethics. This must first be accomplished before moving forward in formulating a practical approach for improving ethics that is founded from a historical perspective.

In one's quest for finding and maintaining that all-important competitive edge, each employee will be challenged in helping establish the ethical standard of the organization. How can ethical dilemmas that will formulate be reduced when individuals in the organization are asked to make difficult decisions that require ethical fortitude? "The organization should also demonstrate ethical courage-doing the right thing when the stakes are high, along with always trying to seek to move the organization toward goodness" (Larimer, 1997, p. 5). How can managers facilitate the opportunity for good ethical decisions within an organization?

Adhering to those organizational standards, while maintaining their individual ethical standards, creates a considerable challenge. Weaver, Trevino, and Cochran (1999) stated that The scope of corporations' ethics program is defined as the number of different ethics program elements included in the formal ethics management effort. Broad scoped programs include dedicated staff, supporting structures and policies, and extensive employee involvement, while programs with a limited scope, on the other hand, have little, if any, staff and few supporting structures. (p. 41)

Additionally, managers should take into consideration that ethical behavior is "acting in ways consistent with one's personal values and the commonly held values of the organization and society" (Nelson & Quick, 1994, p. 129).

Therefore, managers must use a historical perspective from both the public and private sector and then apply a holistic, individual and organization- wide, approach as well as a practical approach. By combining a historical perspective of the organizational and individual concepts in the quest for reducing ethical dilemmas, managers can help identify opportunities for improved ethical behavior using a qualitative model.

Individual and Group Ethics

When managers focus on individuals, one finds a continuing challenge in resolving dilemmas and enhancing the opportunity for good ethical behavior. "Ethics is a very complex subject that is discussed in the workplace today. Many companies look for their new hires to have some form of ethical behaviors. Recent college graduates often enter the workplace with very underdeveloped ethical standards" (Lordan, 1997, p. 29). Therefore, a call for the highest ethical standards has never been more profound. "If asked, most top managers would likely agree that they are committed to ethics, but this commitment can easily be lost in situations in which managers are expected to deliver increasing returns to shareholders and to stay ahead of the competition" (Weaver, et al., 1999, p. 41). "Eighty percent of executives said they believed managers choose profits over what's right when forced to decide between the two" (Godin, 1995, p. …

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