A few days ago I blogged a video interview with Professor Mary Gentile of Babson College in the USA who was talking about the need for Values in the Workplace, given as she said:-
Recent years have seen an unprecedented breakdown in public trust of business, spurred in no small part by instances of unethical behavior at some of the world’s most powerful institutions. Mary Gentile, director of business curriculum at Babson College, says the real challenge for business students, employees, and executives isn’t knowing what’s right, but knowing how to act on those convictions within an organization.
My personal and passionate belief is that effective governance requires strong values and ethics within an organisation. Indeed where the values are wrong, then no matter how many governance frameworks and compliance checks are in place it is probable at best that governance is weak and more possibly non-existent.
To me this is where we reach the critical nexus between leadership, values, integrity and how they impact governance and culture.
In fact in some people’s view I may even be somewhat of a bore with my insistence of this ‘front and centre’ position for values and ethics.
Therefore, I was most interested when I came across Promises Aren’t Enough byRodrigo Canales, B. Cade Massey and Amy Wrzesniewski for the Wall Street Journal / MIT Sloan joint publication. The article looks at the increasing practice of MBA graduands taking the ‘MBA oath ‘ to behave ethically and wonders if that really is sufficient to improve behaviours. As the authors, perhaps somewhat cynically note:-
The danger is the false sense of moral inoculation such oaths engender. Just as teenagers who take a chastity vow in lieu of better sexual education are more vulnerable to the consequences of unprotected sex—vow takers are actually more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior—M.B.A.s who take an ethics oath without enough supporting leadership education are likely more vulnerable to ethical breaches.
As the authors note:-
The power of the situation, and our too frequent disregard for it, is an overarching lesson from sociology and social psychology. Situational forces drive behavior to a surprising extent, much more than expected by those who believe character determines all.
This lesson has been implicated in one scandal after another, from Enron to Abu Ghraib. Pledges made without the benefit of experience with compromising situations, and without some kind of supporting structure, actually exacerbate the problem.
To my mind this ties in with Prof. Gentile’s work referred to above and in my earlier post.
The authors then look at how business schools and educators might assist in improving the situation.
For some reason, I think maintenance at Vodpod the related video for this post will not display, in post at this time, the video features:-
Rich Lyons, dean of University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of business, on producing more ethical, value-oriented graduates. In particular he discusses with WSJ Careers editor Jennifer Merritt the characteristics which his school seeks in new students.
No longer is Gordon Gekko’s creed of “Greed is good!’ the acceptable mantra or credo for MBA aspirants. If indeed it was ever really acceptable, though for some given the excesses we have seen it clearly was. That does not mean unambitious people are sought, but that strong values and ethics are required as well.
It is very heartening to see some educators seeing the need to bring values and ethics into prominence as part of business education.
The authors conclude educators:-
more creative in our use of technology, and more intentional in our use of alumni gatherings. It is ironic that schools exert enormous effort to create alumni networks that facilitate regular business transactions while our alumni must make their hardest choices alone.
The solution to ethical challenges in business is not to create an army of M.B.A.s who promise to do the right thing. Rather, as educators we must assume more responsibility by providing better, not less, leadership development. Only then might our graduates take an oath they can actually live up to.
This post highlights some key messages from the article that resonated with me, but I recommend that you read the article in it’s entirety. It is well worth it, in my opinion.
Let me know your views.