The Only Solution to the Decline in Business Ethics: Ethical Managers
This paper defines business ethics as a series of behaviors that adhere to values held by theindividual manager, the manager's supervisors and subordinates, general society and, mostimportantly, the manager's customers and clients. The concept of business ethics is exploredthrough several levels of business organizations and operating environments.The paper then examines recent evidence of the decline in business ethics by noting a fewexamples involving Beech-Nut, Hertz, Michael Milken, E.F. Hutton, Sears, Salomon Brothers,Dalkon Shield, Exxon Valdez, S&L scandal, brokerage analysts. Surveys are cited to indicatethat the American public believes that business ethics are declining.To further analyze the topic, the author reports on a series of structured interviews with managersin a variety of organizations. Fourteen senior managers were interviewed: 4 from large countygovernment, 3 from state government, 4 from large corporations, 3 from small businesses. Themanagers were asked their opinions concerning the decline of business ethics, and for theirrecommendations to possibly retard the decline. All managers said they believed that ethics arein decline and that the public believes ethics are declining.The recommendations for retarding or reversing the decline yielded several suggestions: teachethics in schools and business organizations, develop and enforce Codes of Ethical Conductwithin all organizations, establish better monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and hire ethicalmanagers.The paper builds on the interview results by coupling the managers' remarks with admonitionsfrom many authors: while teaching ethics and Codes of Ethical Conduct are important, the mostimportant factor is the ethical behavior of managers (leaders). Ethical leadership is fundamentalsince ethical behavior is an individual - not a corporate - matter. In practice, ethics is notsomething that a manager “does”; it is something that the manager “is”.
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