Techniques for Preparing Business Students to Contribute to Ethical Organizational Cultures

Techniques for Preparing Business Students to Contribute to Ethical Organizational Cultures

William Irvin Sauser Jr. (Auburn University, USA) and Ronald R. Sims (College of William and Mary, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7476-9.ch011
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Abstract

This chapter distinguishes among four corporate cultures with respect to ethics—cultures of defiance, compliance, neglect, and character—and outlines a plan for constructing an ethical organizational culture. Some proven ideas are then shared for showing business students how to contribute to such a culture. These include (a) describing how to establish an effective learning context for teaching about business ethics, (b) offering a number of practical suggestions for student assignments and experiences that can empower students to understand, appreciate, and contribute to ethical organizational cultures, and (c) explaining how to enhance experiential learning by conducting an effective debriefing session. The chapter concludes with three examples from the authors' experience illustrating how these ideas can be incorporated into programs designed to teach business students how to contribute to organizational cultures grounded in moral character.
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Introduction

The ethical crisis in business is very real and appears to be continuing unabated (Zutshi, Wood, & Morris, 2012). For extensive evidence of this fact see Audi (2009), Quatro and Sims (2008), Sauser (2005a), Shaw and Barry (2010), Stanwick and Stanwick (2009), and Wankel and Stachowicz-Stanusch (2012b). The ever-increasing sophistication and interconnectivity of modern information technology has exacerbated ethical problems in business worldwide (Balkin, Grimmelmann, Katz, Kozlovski, Wagman, & Zarsky, 2007; Stamatellos, 2006). Countering this crisis by creating ethical organizational cultures—cultures of character as they are termed in this chapter—is a key challenge faced by business leaders if they are to regain the respect and confidence of the public. As the present authors have noted earlier,

Organizations with cultures of character not only comply with legal and ethical standards, they also internalize them from top to bottom such that every member of the firm becomes a guardian of integrity. A culture of character is built by intention. Its leaders possess strong moral fiber and seek to appoint, develop, and reward others like them throughout the organization. They work hard every day to infuse character into the organization through their decisions and their interactions with others. They seek to develop the next generation of leaders so the integrity of the organizations they have served will continue into the future. (Sauser & Sims, 2012, p. 233)

Business teachers have extensive opportunities to influence their students’ ideas about ethical (and unethical!) actions in business. How can business professors best prepare their students to understand, appreciate, and contribute to the establishment of ethical cultures of character in the businesses that seek to employ these students—and which these students may ultimately lead? Are there new approaches to teaching ethics in business (Knapp, 2011; Sauser & Sims, 2012; Sims, 2008; Sims & Sauser, 2011a; Wankel & Stachowicz-Stanusch, 2012a) that can be employed for this purpose? In this chapter the authors distinguish among four corporate cultures with respect to ethics—cultures of defiance, compliance, neglect, and character—and outline a plan for constructing an ethical organizational culture. The authors then share some proven ideas for showing business students how to contribute to such a culture by

  • 1.

    Describing how to establish an effective learning context for teaching about business ethics,

  • 2.

    Offering a number of practical suggestions for student assignments and experiences that can empower students to understand, appreciate, and contribute to ethical organizational cultures, and

  • 3.

    Explaining how to enhance experiential learning by conducting an effective debriefing session.

The article is concluded with three examples from the authors’ own experience—one from an undergraduate class, one from an Executive MBA class taught at a distance, and one from a case study prepared for advanced students and professionals—illustrating how these ideas can be incorporated into programs designed to teach business students how to contribute to ethical organizational cultures. This chapter further develops and expands upon ideas expressed in some of the present authors’ earlier works (e.g. Sauser & Sims, 2012, 2014).

Key Terms in this Chapter

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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 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.

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