Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Ethical Orientations of Future American Executives: What the Value Profiles of Business School Students Portend

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Ethical Orientations of Future American Executives: What the Value Profiles of Business School Students Portend

Article excerpt

The late 1970s and 1980s witnessed heightened public concern about the failure of America's higher institutions of learning in preparing ethically responsible future leaders of business and government. In a 1983 Gallup poll, business executives received "very high" or "high" marks for honesty and ethical standards from only 18% of the respondents, placing them behind most major professions. Another Gallup poll taken the same year showed that only 20% of the public expressed "a great deal of confidence" in big businesses, ranking them behind church, military, U.S. Supreme Court, public schools, and Congress. The poor public perception was given serious attention by both the business community and schools of business. As a result, codes of ethics, rare 20 years ago, are now commonplace among America's large corporations, and study of business ethics has become an integral part of many business schools' curriculums.

Nevertheless, questions of ethics continue to nag businesses and higher education as they enter the 21st century; a number of academic studies and surveys have shown that executives are increasingly concerned with ethics and corporate social responsibility (Posner and Schmidt, 1984; Clinard, 1983; George, 1988). Studies have also shown that business students are becoming more sensitive to ethical issues in business (Beltramini, Peterson, and Koznetsky, 1984; Jones and Gautschi, 1988; Kruckhardt, McCarthy, and Wetrink, 1985), and that schools of business are addressing these issues (Posner and Schmidt, 1984; George, 1988).

In the 1990s, however, the primary focus of the business community and business schools has shifted from ethics and corporate social responsibility to improving America's competitiveness in world markets. Increased productivity, improved efficiency, greater profitability, not enhanced ethical standards, seem to be their major concerns (Jones, 1988). At present, there are two important questions that managers and academicians must examine closely. First, to what extent has the heightened concern for business ethics and corporate social responsibility paid off in terms of producing future executives who are sensitive to these issues? Second, has the shift in emphasis from ethics to competitiveness caused future executives to embrace values that may make them ethically less sensitive?

This study attempts to answer these questions by analyzing the value profiles of future American business executives and relating their evaluative attitudes to their ethical orientations. Findings of this study could give academicians and corporate managers some sense of what has been achieved in terms of preparing ethically responsible future executives and how critical an issue business ethics is likely to be among future executives.

Personal Value Systems and Ethical Orientations

In recent years, academic researchers have examined differences in personal value systems as a way of understanding the ethical attitudes [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] and orientations of business people. A number of surveys have been conducted to learn about the values of current American managers (e.g., Posner and Schmidt, 1984), but our knowledge of the value systems and evaluative attitudes of future executives is relatively limited (Jacogs, Rettig, and Bovass, 1991; Hoge and Hoge, 1992).

It has been noted that value research could lead to "more insightful and broader coverage" of business ethics (Payne, 1988). Value research has also been found helpful in moving beyond the rhetoric of ethical codes by developing a more coherent, deeper understanding of the ethical orientations of individuals and how they are likely to act in situations requiring ethical judgment (McCabe, Dukerich and Dutton, 1991). Because values are one of the most powerful influences on human behavior (Freeman, Gilbert and Hartman, 1988), value research appears to provide the key to understanding differences in ethical orientations. …

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