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Beyond IntegrityA Judeo-Christian approach to business ethics
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Scott B. Rae and Kenman L. Wong
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Chapter OneEthical Decision Making
Shelving hard decisions is the least ethical course. Sir George Adrian Cadbury, CEO of Cadbury-Schweppes
You work in sales for a major software manufacturer and are paid a base salary, commissions on all sales, and a quarterly bonus if you exceed the quota that management sets for you each quarter. Though your bosses view the quotas as demanding, it is expected that each salesperson will exceed his or her standard periodically and qualify for a bonus. If someone goes for some time without doing so, the person is considered to have done simply the minimum to keep his or her job. You are feeling some pressure to exceed your quota since everyone on your team has done so recently. They are experiencing the effects of the economy picking up after a harsh recession, and sales are starting to be encouraging again.
This particular quarter you have a good chance to surpass your expected sales figures and collect your first quarterly bonus in more than a year. You could really use the bonus to finish paying off some medical bills that your company's insurance plan did not fully cover. You are about to close a sizable sale of software to a large company, but it's beginning to look as if you won't wrap up the sale until after the close of the current quarter. You are discussing this unfortunate timing with one of your team members, and he suggests that you simply back-date the sales order to a date in the current quarter. Your colleague says that it's something that most salespersons have done at some point and that the chances of it being detected by upper management are quite low. As you consider this option, you realize that you are falsifying sales records and reaping a bonus you are not technically entitled to, but you have been assured by the customer that the sale will close in the first few days of the new quarter. Needless to say, the bonus will be very helpful to your family budget.
You are facing a moral issue that raises important questions about ethical decision making. The conclusion you reach about backdating the sales order is, of course, a key element of your moral deliberations. But equally important is the question of how you reach your decision. What are the elements that go into making a moral choice? What questions do you need to ask in order to resolve your dilemma? Rather than simply "trusting your gut," which is the uncritical process used by many business people, we would encourage you to develop more thoughtful ways of thinking about moral issues.
The articles in this chapter will introduce you to important aspects of moral decision making and to ways of determining right and wrong in general. In the introductory article, business ethics professor David Gill helps us understand how complex ethical decision making can be in the workplace, and he rightly rejects simplistic and overly black-and-white views of ethical dilemmas. His article "Upgrading the Decision-Making Model for Business" will help you recognize when you are facing an ethical issue and give you a model for working through the dilemma. He is careful not to reduce ethics to decisions and dilemmas, and he rightly points out how important character and virtue are to your moral life in the workplace. He urges you to think beyond "damage control" — a reactive way of handling dilemmas. Instead, he argues for a more proactive approach that connects ethics with the mission and core values of the organization. We will think more about this connection in chapter 11.
Bernard Adeney, in his article "The Bible and Culture in Ethics," insightfully teaches how to understand the use of the Bible in ethical decision making, particularly in cross-cultural contexts. He helps readers understand the cultural setting of the Bible and gives some sound advice for interpreting the Bible in its cultural context (Adeney rightly claims that some biblical mandates simply don't make much sense apart from the original setting for the command) and applying it properly to a very different culture today. As we'll see in chapter 5, economic life in biblical times (largely subsistence agriculture or a trade) was very different from the modern, information-age economy in today's developed world. He gives numerous concrete examples to help you understand and apply the Bible to economic life today. He emphasizes that the Bible is not a textbook on ethics, but that its moral wisdom is intertwined with the narrative story of God's redemption of the world. However, it does have moral rules (the Ten Commandments) and general principles that we can deduce from the narrative and wisdom material.
Professor Donald Schmeltekopf, in his article "The Moral Context of Business," provides some foundational material in which he argues that ethical issues are a necessary component of doing business well — this is because the proper functioning of business presumes a moral context. It presumes a set of virtues that are both necessary and nurtured by a person's participation in business. He rightly criticizes the lack of preparation for ethical decision making in business schools and questions whether the secular academy has the intellectual resources to ground the virtues and values necessary for business to flourish. He looks to the Christian worldview and the philosophical (Aristotelian) tradition of virtue to provide the framework for understanding business ethics but also for understanding the purpose and mission for business in general. He anticipates the articles by Dallas Willard ("The Business of Business") and Robert Sirico ("The Entrepreneurial Vocation") in the next chapters by affirming the intrinsic goodness of business as a part of the stewardship with which God has entrusted human beings.
An Introduction to Ethical Reasoning
In the workplace, people make moral decisions in a variety of ways. Some simply follow the law, insisting that "if it's legal, it's moral." Others simply follow their company's policies and assume that as long as they adhere to them, they are doing everything they need to do morally. Others follow their intuition, or "trust their gut." Or they may utilize a more structured method of moral reasoning, whether they are aware of that structure or not. That is, they employ one or more different formal modes of moral reasoning at different times as they wrestle with their moral obligation in any specific instance. Some people may actually move between different types of moral reasoning and not settle on any one in particular.
Take, for example, the following scenario:
Imagine that you are the CEO of a company that is launching into a new market, expanding your ser vice to parts of Asia that your company has not previously served. You and your staff have prepared a proposal for a project that could amount to a $50 million contract over the next five years for your firm. The contract is to provide your ser vices to a government agency in Southeast Asia. You are now flying to meet with government officials to bid on the deal. When you arrive to meet with the officials, you are told that you must submit a "pledge" to certain officials, in cash, in order to remain competitive in the bidding. When you ask if other bidders are also required to submit such pledges, you are told that that is not your concern. You must submit the money if you are to have any chance of securing the contract. You quickly realize that you have been asked to bribe the officials under the table in order to be considered for the contract. Your company has done this in the past, before you became CEO. Your principles tell you that this is wrong, but there are many other considerations, such as the jobs that will be created, as well as those that will be saved by getting this contract; the cultural context in which bribery is a routine practice; and the fact that your interests would be clearly served by securing the contract. You agree to pay the bribe and submit your bid accordingly. On the flight home, you are troubled that you may not have done the right thing. After all, not only is your career in jeopardy if you fail to win the contract, but hundreds of jobs are also at stake for your company. Upon returning home, you are still bothered as you await word about the contract, so you bring the situation up for discussion at the next local chamber of commerce meeting. Many of your closest friends and associates are among the participants. They, however, seem only to add to your confusion, because each one approaches moral problems with a radically different methodology. The participants (with their respective approaches in parentheses) respond to you in the following ways:
Participant 1: President of a Community Business (Ethical Egoist)
Why is this a moral discussion at all? I would have no problem doing anything that you have just stated. You see, for me it all boils down to the fact that I have a business to run, and the only thing that matters is if I can make a profit provided I stay within the bounds of the law. In fact, the only business ethic worth its weight is "Do unto others before they do unto you." There is no doubt that my competitors would also do this. After all, if my own job is dependent on this contract, what's my family going to do? Starve, so that I can feel good about myself? Forget it! My mortgage is not paid with someone else's moral principles. Aside from all of this, isn't capitalism based on self-interest anyway? You guys are so naïve. I mean, it's a rough and tumble world; if I don't look out for my needs, who will? A book that you all should read is Looking Out for Number One. It says it all!
Participant 2: Head of the Local Chamber of Commerce (Utilitarian)
Wow, what a scenario! I admit, the prospect of bribing officials would bother me a bit. But if I were you, I think I could justify my actions based on the good that it will do for my employees and for the local community. Just think, without this contract, hundreds of jobs are at stake. That could devastate our local economy. But if we were to secure the deal, we could create jobs, expand our tax base, and go forward with those badly needed community improvement projects. I know that the competing company would be hurt, but their business just doesn't depend on government contracts to the degree that yours does. You see, I believe that it is not necessarily principles that determine right and wrong, but the consequences produced by the actions in question. If a particular course of action or decision produces the best set of consequences, then it seems to me that it should be allowed. To put it another way, the action that produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms is the one that is the most moral. So in this case, what is important to determine is whether offering the bribes would produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. As I just pointed out, this could produce a lot of good for the people in your company. Now, there may be situations in which a similar action may produce, on balance, more negative than positive consequences. In those cases, it should not be allowed. We should be careful of setting hard and fast rules that don't take the consequences into account.
Participant 3: President of the Area Christian Business Women's Chapter (Deontologist, or Principle-Based Ethics)
Hey, wait a minute! Doesn't this simply come down to bribery, which is designed to create an unlevel playing field for competition? This is clearly wrong. My moral authority, the Bible and common Western morality, is clearly opposed to this. Thus, it doesn't matter to me how many people would lose their jobs or what our community would gain from the contract. It equally doesn't matter if I might lose my job! Bribery is wrong, period! If torn between loyalty to my employer and loyalty to God, there's no question as to whom I will honor first. Likewise, you should instead trust that God will provide if you honor his principles first.
Participant 4: Local Television Talk Show Host (Emotivist)
I hate to throw a monkey wrench into this whole discussion, but in my view, all of the participants so far are trying to do the impossible. Each person so far has attempted to make some kind of determination of what is right or wrong in this case. I don't think that's possible. They are really using the language of right and wrong to mask their own personal preferences. What I mean is that anytime a person says that something is right or wrong, all they are saying and can say about it is that they either like or dislike the action or position under consideration. We should be honest and admit that we're only talking about our preferences and using moral language to give greater persuasive power to our argument. In this specific case, you should ask yourself how you feel about it. Feelings are more important than any reasoning you could do. In my own view, my feelings would not be bothered by any of this, so I think I'm okay.
Participant 5: Anthropology Professor (Relativist)
I clearly reject what my friend from the Christian Business Women's Fellowship says, because the Bible is not my moral authority! Now, I'm not prepared to say that there is no such thing as genuine right and wrong, but I do think that there is no universal, absolute standard of right and wrong. What is moral depends on the situation, and on what the cultural consensus of right and wrong is at that time. In this case, if the culture has reached a consensus that it should be allowed, then I see no reason why it should not be allowed. Conversely, if the culture is opposed to the practice, I see no good reason why any particular standard should be forced on them. I know that in most parts of the non-Western world, bribery is just a part of the game. Even though it may seem terrible to us, who are we to judge what is right for them? We should simply respect their norms. So, the operative question that we should be asking is whether this is an acceptable part of the business culture as opposed to the morality of other parts of life. You know, what is the right thing to do while in Rome?
Participant 6: Minister (Virtue Theory)
I'd like to put a slightly different slant on this issue. You see, I believe that there's more to morality than simply arguing about correct decisions when a person is faced with a moral dilemma. There is more to the moral life than simply doing the right thing and making the correct decision. Being the right type of person is more important. Thus, we cannot neglect the place of an individual's character or virtue when considering ethical questions. Simply debating issues is powerless if we continue to ignore the character traits that give people the ability to actually do the right thing. After all, most of the recent headlines of business ethics scandals involved participants that were educated at the nation's elite universities. So it couldn't have been just a matter of knowing right from wrong. You see, it was plainly a matter of character. As such, I believe that there are more important questions that need to be asked in this situation. For example, what does a person's attitude toward fair competition tell us about his or her character? What does support for paying the bribe or opposition to it say about our society? Does it say that as a society we no longer value fair competition on the merits of the product or the ser vice? Besides, as I mentioned earlier, what good is only debating about ethics when our schools and communities no longer agree about or seek to equip our children with the character necessary to carry out what they know to be right? These are very important questions that cannot be ignored in any discussion of ethics in business.
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Whew! A bit confusing, isn't it? No wonder we have so many disagreements about morality in society. Each person in this discussion has argued, using a distinctive style of moral reasoning, from a specific ethical system. The participants represent each of the predominant modes of moral reasoning that are used in the debates over today's current moral issues. Examples of the various styles of moral reasoning discussed in this chapter appear frequently in the media during discussions of moral issues. You will likely find most of these systems employed regularly if you are careful to watch for them. In what follows, we will analyze each of the ethical systems used by the participants in this panel, spelling out the positive elements of each system as well as offering a critique of each system.
Excerpted from Beyond Integrity Copyright © 2012 by Scott B. Rae and Kenman L. Wong. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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