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Arbitrary Ethics

One of the biggest obstacles to ethics is arbitrariness. All kinds of behavior – both unethical and ethical – can lead to arbitrary ethics consequences. Conversely, arbitrariness in ethics oversight almost always generates unethical behavior. Let’s take a common example in organizations of all sectors and sizes: leaving enforcement of ethical guidelines up to the immediate boss in a hierarchical structure. One employee’s particularly punitive boss may deliver a career-damaging punishment. Another boss may not even read the e-mails signalling more serious unethical behavior leaving her direct report to carry on with impunity. Both occur within the same organization with...

Untangling the Confusion Over Organizational Ethics

This article was first published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Summer 2013).  A wave of ethics transgressions underlines the importance of comprehensive ethics oversight for organizational success. Last year, 2012, was in many regards a step forward for proponents of ethical action. Roger Gifford, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, one of the world’s financial capitals, declared business ethics a priority and critical to the City’s economic success. François Hollande published a Code of Ethics within 11 days of becoming president of France. And the new Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, highlighted the ongoing danger of corruption to economic and social development as a central part...



Intentional Ethics

January 1 often kicks off with intentions: New Year’s resolutions. The importance of intentions also surfaces widely in spiritual, political, literary, and philosophical works too numerous for a blog, as well as in criminal law (e.g. intentional murder versus manslaughter) and various social interactions (“it’s the thought that counts”). However, in ethics oversight organizational leaders all too often fail to clarify the intentions underlying ethics initiatives. That is, instead of focusing on intended ethics outcomes, they stop short and consider the analysis complete upon identification of a list of ethics actions. (more…)

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