What with the string of Enron and Worldcom shockers and then what seems with hindsight to have been a collective see-no-evil attitude in the mortgage origination and securitization businesses, it's not surprising that some Harvard Business School professors have been wondering why no one blew the whistle loud enough on lapses of ethical behavior in business.
They start with clearing the air by saying that good people can do bad things and that it's usually easier to see lapses in ethical behavior - or appearances of such lapses - when you are not a party to a transaction.
The professors then come up with four types of theories about why people so often seem to overlook unethical behavior at work. They are as follows (I am paraphrasing their language to fit my own understanding of the issues, and I may be oversimplifying their argument):
(1) Why raise the issue if the main immediate outcome is to damage one's situation at the office (or other workplace)?
(2) Why raise it if the behavior isn't "clear, immediate, and direct"?
(3) Why get excited about it if the change in ethical behavior for the worse is gradual?
(4) Why bring it up if nothing bad has happened? (If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.) So nothing is said during the decision process.
All of which suggests that business needs ethical issues built into its management systems. That in turn leads an endorsement of voluntary written standards and periodic reviews. And it suggests there are limits to relying on voluntary approaches.
Information, news and commentary on corporate social responsibility, especially in the New York City area.
Maintained by John Tepper Marlin, Principal of CSRNYC, www.csrnyc.com.