Managing Business Ethics

By Priest, Jim T. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 15, 1999 | Go to article overview

Managing Business Ethics


Priest, Jim T., THE JOURNAL RECORD


While few speak out against the concept of business ethics, many believe ethical conduct is such a personalized thing it cannot be "managed" within an organization.

Some think ethics is akin to religion and is best left to individualized decision making. But as Dr. Carter McNamara points out in his Complete Guide to Ethics Management (http://www.mapnp.org/library/ethics/ethxdge.htm), ethics is always managed -- but too often it is managed indirectly.

"The behavior of the organization's founder or current leader is a strong moral influence or directive, if you will, on the behavior of the employees in the workplace," he says. "Strategic priorities such as profit maximization, expanding marketshare, cutting costs, etc., can be very strong influences on morality." Management is a value system and, like it or not, every group of two or more people manages their ethics. Sometimes it's just that the "ethics management" is unspoken and unnoticed instead of articulated and observed. McNamara believes a "code of conduct" is an important instrument in the ethical manager's tool kit. According to the Conference Board, a leading business membership organization, about 76 percent of corporations surveyed had codes of conduct. While some may argue such codes have little value and are nothing more than mere platitudes, organizations that use them disagree. For example, Johnson & Johnson believes strongly in their code of conduct (called the "credo"). According to J&J, it was the credo which helped guide them through the Tylenol crises of 1982 and 1986, when the company's product was adulterated with cyanide. It was the credo that led J&J to pull Tylenol bottles off the shelves and repackage them at a $100 million expense. Warning: Developing a viable code of conduct for your organization is not a shallow or slap-dash proposition. Says Bob Kniffin, vice president of external affairs at Johnson & Johnson: "We pored over each phrase and word (of the credo). We asked ourselves, `Do we still believe this?' Our meetings infused our values in the minds of all of us managers." So what should you consider when developing a code of conduct? McNamara cites the following: Review any relevant laws and regulations. While the law doesn't determine the totality of your ethical obligations, it does set the floor. Be sure your organization is aware which laws and regulations affect it. Review which values produce highly ethical and successful people or products. Identify which values produce behaviors that account for success in your arena. …

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