Showing Business Students How to Contribute to Organizational Cultures Grounded in Moral Character

Showing Business Students How to Contribute to Organizational Cultures Grounded in Moral Character

William I. Sauser, Ronald R. Sims
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-510-6.ch014
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The ethical crisis in business is very real. Countering this crisis by creating organizational cultures grounded in moral character is the challenge we face as business leaders if we are to regain the respect and confidence of the public. As educators of future business leaders, how can we prepare our students to understand, appreciate, and contribute to the establishment of cultures of character in the organizations which employ them—and which they may ultimately lead? In this chapter the authors distinguish among four corporate cultures with respect to ethics in business—cultures of defiance, compliance, neglect, and character—and present a blueprint for constructing an organizational culture grounded in moral character. With respect to showing business students how to contribute to such a culture, the authors then (a) describe how to establish an effective learning context for teaching about business ethics, (b) proffer a number of practical suggestions for student assignments and experiences that can empower students to understand, appreciate, and contribute to organizational cultures of character, and (c) explain how to enhance experiential learning by conducting an effective debriefing session. They conclude the chapter by providing two examples from their own experience illustrating how these ideas can be incorporated into programs designed to show business students how to contribute to organizational cultures grounded in moral character.
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Organizational Cultures And Character

According to Trevino and Nelson (2004, p. 225), “‘Culture’ has become a common way of thinking about and describing an organization’s internal world—a way of differentiating one organization’s ‘personality’ from another.” Schermerhorn (2005) defines organizational culture as “the system of shared beliefs and values that develops within an organization and guides the behavior of its members” (p. G-12). “Whenever someone, for example, speaks of ‘the way we do things around here,’ they are talking about the culture,” continues Schermerhorn (2005, p. 96). Using such important components of culture as core values, stories, heroes, symbols, and rites and rituals, ethical leaders must influence the organization and its members to incorporate and exhibit desirable virtues and behaviors (Sauser, 2005b).

Sauser (2005b) has distinguished among four types of organizational culture with respect to their stance toward ethical behavior in business. This classification scheme, modeled in part on Schermerhorn’s (2005) typology of strategies for corporate responsibility, holds that there are four basic types of organizational culture with respect to moral thought and action in business. They are defiance, compliance, neglect, and character.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Community: An educational context in which students and teachers support one another and are open with one another during discussions about feelings and opinions related to various ethical issues, situations, and challenges. In a learning community students must be willing to confront or compare different opinions, responses, insights, and experiences

Experiential Learning: Participation in exercises aimed at developing understanding and interpretation, which involves a high degree of interpersonal action, sharing, dialogue and conversation among students and other participants. Experiential learning exercises include role-playing, simulation, case study and group analysis, and service learning, for example.

Corporate Culture: See “organizational culture.”

Organizational Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, expectations, and taboos within an organization that influences the corporate and individual behavior of the organization’s members; often referred to as “the way we do things around here.”

Culture of Compliance: An organizational culture that emphasizes yielding to laws and other ethical standards that the organization’s leaders and members do not necessarily accept. Within this type of culture leaders and members grudgingly take actions designed to meet their legal and ethical requirements, but do not accept and incorporate these standards within their own value system.

Moral Character: The possession of such personality or cultural traits and virtues as wisdom, knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence, accountability, humility, and respect.

Culture of Character: An organizational culture in which leaders and members are truly committed to ethical conduct and make ethical behavior a fundamental component of their every action. Leaders of cultures of character are constantly vigilant to detect and correct ethical shortcomings on the part of themselves or their employees, because they have internalized the spirit as well as the letter of the laws and ethical standards governing the organization’s actions.

Debriefing: The post-experience analysis of experiential learning exercises. Debriefing is designed to provide insight through reflection on assumptions, actions, skills, behaviors, outcomes, feelings, attitudes, emotions, and other aspects of the experiential learning exercise.

Active Learning: See “experiential learning.”

Culture of Neglect: An organizational culture in which leaders fail in their responsibility of due diligence toward moral and ethical concerns. Such shortcomings might include a failure to know or understand the laws and ethical codes regulating the business, a failure adequately to communicate those standards, a failure to detect and/or punish wrongdoers within the firm, or even a certain blindness within the culture, caused by one or more tragic flaws, that leads to unintentional moral failure.

Culture of Defiance: An organizational culture that emphasizes a scorning defiance of the law and other ethical standards and seeks to resist or defy them wherever possible. Cutting ethical corners, breaking the law when the likelihood of detection is perceived to be low (or reward for breaking the law is gauged to be high enough to risk the consequences), and other such tactics would be rewarded and encouraged in this type of culture.

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