A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO ETHICS
A Manager must possess the requisite proficiency in analyzing and managing ethical situations in the contextual scenario which, at times, are quite complex.
There is, thus, a need for present day management education to prepare future managers to tackle such dilemmas and contingencies.
This author’s interactions with faculty, students and practicing managers reveal that very few management courses include Ethical Management in their curriculum and even those that do seem to view Managerial Ethics from a limited perspective restricted to just three aspects:
(i) Economic Analysis, based on impersonal market forces. The belief is that a manager should always act to maximize revenues and minimize costs, for this strategy, over the long term, will produce the greatest material benefits for society.
(ii) Legal Analysis, based on impersonal social and political processes. The belief is that a manager should always act in accordance with the law, and strictly implement rules and regulations. Relying on economic or legal analyses, either by themselves, or in conjunction with each other may help a manger seek shelter under the umbrella of “situational ethics”.
(iii) Philosophical Analysis, based on rational thought process. The view is that a manager should always act in accordance with principles of behaviour or beliefs that are “right” “proper” and “just”. Such black-and-white moral reasoning manifests itself in formulation of codes of conduct which, more often than not, are deceivable vessels full of promise but empty of intention.
Owing to this non-sytemic perspective of Managerial Ethics, the management student views the ethical domain as consisting of cut-and-dry unimplementable and unrealistic codes of ethics comprising platitudinous moral verbiage at one end of the spectrum, and the “loopholes” of situational ethics at the other end.
How then does one equip the management student to make the transition from the domain of codes of conduct and situational ethics, which are grossly inadequate to analyze and manage real-life ethical dilemmas, to a more holistic Total Ethical Management [TEM]
It is the author’s view that application of Systems concepts is sine qua non for implementation of Total Ethical Management [TEM] in a holistic manner.
The salient aspects of application of the Systems Approach in the context of TEM are described below in a nutshell.
Any time a human being, or entity, intervenes in the life of another human being, directly or indirectly, an ethical situation arises.
Thus not only human beings, but even entities, tangible and intangible, like technology and philosophy, can cause ethical situations. For example, Information Technology (IT) raises many ethical issues.
Ethical situations are frequently charged with emotion so any attempts to apply quantitative management techniques are not advisable.
System Behavioural Modeling (SBM) techniques which establish linkages between emotions and rationality are most apt in the context of Human Activity System (HAS) empirical evidence suggests that emotions are not inherently irrational, but they can contribute rationality when completely logical solutions are not available.
It must be appreciated that emotions, in conjunction with an individual’s stage of moral development, value system and other situational and cognitive mechanisms are a key factor which predispose one towards a certain ethical perspective.
Ethical dilemma occurs due to mismatch in ethical perspectives of various stakeholders involved in the ethical situation.
TOTAL ETHICAL MANAGEMENT
Total Ethical Management [TEM] can be distilled into five simple steps:
Identification and categorization of all stakeholders into six groups using the CATWOE model:
C : Customers or clients
A : Actors or agents who carryout the decision of the manager.
T : Transformation process or the manager decision maker
W : Weltanschauung or the world-view predominantly held. This includes the moral reasoning or philosophical aspect of conventional managerial ethics.
O : Ownership or the economic analysis aspects of conventional managerial ethics
E : Environmental and wider system constraints including legal aspects
Analyze the dominant ethical perspective of each of the above six groups using system management tools like entity relationship diagrams, N squared charts, behaviour divergence, et al
Construct an ethical conflict web [hexagonal spider’s web] mapping different ethical perspectives of various CATWOE stakeholders.
Identify those strands of the web where no significant ethical conflict exists and remove them from the conflict web.
Concentrate on those strands where ethical does exist and use conflict management techniques for optimal resolution.
It is evident that conventional managerial techniques are woefully in adequate to meet the challenges of Total Ethical Management (TEM). It will be apt to adopt the Systems Approach to tackle modern day ethical dilemmas and situations with a view to achieve optimal TEM.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.