How to battle ethical dilemmas?

dilemma1Personal friendship, parental love, career progress, peer pressure often bring us down morally. In a do or die situation we battle ethical dilemmas; the danger may not come from your own ethics but from the ethics of people around you and the situation you are in. At your work place, you may be called upon to do things that turn out to be unethical or even deceitful. What should we do if such situation occurs? According to the old maxim, “the best defense is a good offense.” I think, the best defense would be stop participating in wrongdoing; be prepared to take on challenge go as per your personal values, moral beliefs, and commitment to doing the right thing. It is not at all easy I know.

Most people get confused with their faulty thinking of unethical behavior; they think that “bad” people do “bad” things and “good” people are ought to do “good” things. This good-bad tagging of people that we do misleads us in most situations. We see good people or good employees in organizations doing wrong things. So many good employees, good managers, and even good leaders falter. The real challenge therefore is trying to understand why good people do bad things. One reason is that they fail to decide that the problem they are confronting has an ethical component and is not solely a marketing or a finance or an operational problem. As a result, they often lack the ability to analyze the problem from an ethical viewpoint. Organizations therefore need to train their employees to become sensitive to ethics and not to change people’s ethics. The training should concentrate on enhancing people’s sensitivity to ethical issues and provide them with tools for resolving ethical dilemmas effectively.

Most organizations and entrepreneurs do not set out to make a defective product or service or they do not like to get involved in a massive fraud. Often, such situations begin in small ways, and with very small actions which seem inconsequential. It is also important for people to understand that most ethics scandals typically involve a number of people who are included in the decision-making process at each stage. As a result, responsibility becomes subtle among these individuals, making it difficult to point out accountability on any particular person. While people may feel uncomfortable in such situations as they start moving down on a slippery slope, they satisfy themselves saying that “as long as it is legitimate, it is ethical” or that they are doing what is expected of them. People rationalize to justify their behavior. And, this is the biggest moral failing.

When organizations state in their vision and mission statements that they want to create a culture of integrity and transparency, they require a well-defined, well-articulated code of ethics that clearly tells employees how they are expected to act, the manner in which goals and objectives are to be achieved, and the type of behavior which will not be tolerated. Consecutively, a culture of integrity requires an incentive system that is consistent with and promotes the organization’s values and vision. An incentive system has a tremendous impact on behavior, it must include criteria for promotions, pay raises, and bonuses that encourage and reward behavior that is consonant with the organization’s values.

dilemma2Management requires regular monitoring and regulating employee conduct and this can be done by designing and implementing effective internal controls. Incentive systems without attention to ethics often result in unintentionally incentivizing unethical behavior. It is important to remember, however, that organizational cultures are fragile and can easily corrode as companies grow. Therefore, once a culture has been created, it must be constantly strengthened and updated in order to suit its vision. In smaller firms, start-ups, and family-run businesses it is easier to formulate and maintain ethical code of conduct because such organizations typically have founders who set the tone for the organizations and whose behavior serves as a constant reminder of how employees are expected to behave.

Leading B Schools in the world have realized that to earn a place at the top table of global business schools alongside Harvard, Stanford or INSEAD, they need to appeal to a global audience and to attract good professors and corporate partners. Business ethics have certainly been in the spotlight in B Schools over the last decade because of rising numbers of scandals involving money laundering, sexual harassment and breaking the rules around defaulted mortgages to name a few. Recently some famous business organizations have been lumped with hefty fines for questionable moral practices.  Should we accept that dubious morals are inevitable for successful business practices? Organizations suffer from ethical drift causing a gradual, unconscious lowering of moral standards. While businesses compete for profit, the boundaries between rights and wrongs become blurred and people’s ethical frame of references shift. Human biases like being unrealistically optimistic about an outcome, believing themselves to be all-powerful, all-knowing and unshakable, and the tendency to justify their own behavior.

dilemma3So what can courses in ethics teach in a classroom? Different instructors will have different approaches to teaching ethics. But certain points such as a course in ethics must help students understand the dangers of rationalization. A lot of bad behavior goes on because people tell themselves that such behavior is not at all bad. In the majority of cases, such rationalizations are rooted in very poor reasoning. A course in ethics must give students an opportunity to look at some of the most important rationalizations, in order to examine them under the cold, detached light of logic.

A good instructor in ethics can simply give students the opportunity to talk at length, about their ideas on ethics, some of their experiences in life – something they likely wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. This can have several positive effects. For instance, it can make students more comfortable talking about topics that might otherwise be too awkward to raise. There are some practical insights to be gained by having students read theoretical, scholarly articles on business ethics. Such articles can have benefits; if chosen judiciously they can illustrate for students what first-rate reasoning about ethics actually looks like. Students who study such first-rate reasoning in the classroom stand a better chance of being able to engage in solid ethical reasoning in the workplace. A further benefit of exposure to scholarly articles is that such articles make the readers to think carefully about ethics, and to take the ideas of moral obligation seriously.

To sum up this article I would say that, ethics can be precarious to one’s career if he/she is not been trained to identify and analyze ethical problems and to resolve them effectively. Ethics can also be dangerous to a person’s career if the organization he is working in, does not support ethical behavior or, worse, encourages misbehavior. Finally, we should recognize that anyone can get caught up in unethical conduct under the right circumstances. Organizational forces are very strong, and we humans have many psychological weaknesses that make us vulnerable at times and we take unethical decisions. Preventive steps can be taken to improve both organizations and the individuals in them to avoid wrongdoing. But unethical behaviors cannot be eliminated totally.

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A Professor with 15 years of teaching and 20 years industry experience. My core teaching areas are Marketing Strategy and General Management. While I am a Professor of Marketing and General Management, I have also worked as Director of few Management Institutes in Mumbai. I am a research guide in Mumbai University, SNDT University and YCMOU (Yashwantrao Chawan Maharashtra Open University, Nasik) 6 students have got their PhD degree under my guidance so far, and 11 students are registered for their PhD with me. Research is my passion, and I work on live projects from the industry. I strongly believe that the principal goal of research is to discover new knowledge, while that of teaching is to impart well-established knowledge and provide training in problem-solving. At present I am working as a Director for a Center of Excellence with an 80 years old Educational institution in Mumbai. I am a results-driven researcher, qualified with a PhD in Marketing Management from Pune University, a Post Doctoral Degree D.Litt from Mumbai University. I have authored above 100 articles and research which are published in news papers, business magazines and research journals. I have also authored two books. I am appointed as a Senate Member in Swami Ramanand Teertha Marathwada University, Nanded as the Maharashtra Governor’s nominee. Today we need greater industry-academia collaboration in research in institutes of higher education. I am confident that I will be able to facilitate the organizations with my research skills to create, integrate, and apply advancements in tricky areas. Thus, in my own way I could collaborate between industry and academia. I am curious, responsible, knowledgeable person with a scholarly approach.

3 COMMENTS

  1. well said vidya… what can expect of an institution that tells professor teaching ethics… this is sem iv and students are busy chasing jobs… so give them 6 questions to prepare for exams…. NOW THATS HOW ETHICAL WE ARE

  2. How to battle ethical Dilemmas ..excellent read article…the sentence that appealed the most to me “believing themselves to be all-powerful, all-knowing and unshakable, and the tendency to justify their own behavior”..indeed the world is full of such morons & tackling such morons is an excruciating pain .Thank you Madam

  3. Indeed a magnificent warrior whose tactics were circumstantial & he never lost a battle. He knew how to make use of the opportunity at the right time and also had great expertise in managing cavalry. Thank u for helping us remember this great Maratha lion

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