Learning Journal: Business and Business Ethics, Essay Example
The most interesting thing I have taken from reading in this course, and one very much going to my reversal of a former opinion expressed shortly, is how pragmatic and complex ethics is as a force in all business. It is easy to believe that, within any society, most members of it generally act in accordance with tacit ideas of correct behavior. Cultures share ethics, as the people born into them grow to accept these ethics, so this general, mutual understanding is widely believed to be a guiding force. We all understand that business creates situations where ethical decisions may be arguable, but there is still this pervasive sense that an actual, “right” answer is there to be comprehended. My reading changes this perspective. To begin, there are six spheres of influence instilling and guiding ethics in people, and I see that these may often contradict one another. Then, business complicates this already complex arena. More importantly, it seems that it is not so much a case of actual intents to violate ethics, but more that business concerns themselves cloud issues and present alternate views. I note, for example, that many instances of dubious ethical conduct from mid-level management often results from ambiguous messages or intents filtered down to it. There is rarely any direct line of unethical intent prompting incorrect actions, but instead an increasingly open field in which interpretation, and not adherence to certain values, is the deciding factor. This is, again, a level of complexity I found both new and disturbing, for it places on the individual an obligation that cannot be passed on to any other party: that of judging the ethics of each business circumstance.
In the past, I had typically assumed that business almost automatically reflects ethical concerns and that, the larger the business, the more reflexive this would be in place. I by no means held this point of view because I believed that all individuals in commerce are guided by senses of correct morality; rather, it simply seemed to me that any large organization would comprehend that violating the ethics of its society is likely to result in commercial disaster. In plain terms, ethical breaches do not occur in vacuums. Somebody or something is usually harmed in some fashion by them, and the grievances ensuing are also usually made public to an extent. I thought, consequently, that ethics were as relied upon by business as attention to productivity or accounting, and that integrity, serving a practical purpose, was uniformly embraced as such. This is no longer my thinking. Moreover, if it was more a common ideology, I believe modern society also no longer entertains such an optimistic and neat ideology. In a matter of very few years, we have all witnessed massive ethical violations, and within some of the largest corporations. Episodes and litigation prompted by Fannie Mae, Enron, Lehman Brothers, and Goldman Sachs have indisputably revealed that the massive responsibilities of safeguarding the public trust do not necessarily translate to an ethical appreciation of the trust. More to the point, and perhaps obviously, it seems that opportunities for immense profit eviscerate ethical obligations at the highest business levels.
Regarding concepts learned I feel I will be able to understand and apply myself to better in the future, I appreciate the instruction on corporate culture as an entity unto itself. As I believe many people do, I was inclined in the past to view such a concept only as a business strategy. Today, more and more companies seem to broadcast the elements of their individual “cultures,” and in ways invariably expressing commitment to the employee as a valued and unique component. What I see now is that these cultural expressions are not necessarily specious; in fact, they provide a means of ethical accountability for all concerned, as they manifest standards to which the company must adhere. More exactly, rather than dismiss the corporate culture as a commercial ploy, I feel it is in fact a valid part of any corporation, for it is the company’s overt declaration of ambitions and values. Going to further learning, I believe that actively implementing ethics programs within an organization is something to which I will be paying close attention, whether I am involved in the process or not. I feel that I will be more inclined to join with firms that develop these processes, because doing so acknowledges the many difficulties faced by business in ethics. Even the business that does not perform an ethics audit, holding to ethics programs, sets itself apart in my estimation. I also think such programs will soon become essential facets of all major business, and I am intrigued to see how these will evolve. Lastly, I am now aware of how crucial it is for any business to properly respond when ethical misconduct is uncovered. I can understand the fears associated with this, yet the business that fails to adequately address breaches of ethics is the business ensuring its own destruction. I now think as well that developing a system to meet just such occasions is necessary, particularly for the larger business. No one wants a scandal or to be a part of an ethical violation, but the reality that such things occur, and more likely so in a vast company, cannot be ignored. Wherever I am placed in my own career, this too is a provision I will either seek out or attempt to help generate. In terms of a more in-depth treatment of the issue in its entirety, however, I would have been interested in an examination of how laws actually adapt to ethical breaches in business, and how these legal reactions reflect society’s response.
To summarize, I must repeat that I am most altered in my thinking in terms of how complicated ethics exists in the business world. It is one thing to witness a gross violation on an Enron scale; it is quite another to assess the rightness of the conduct when a manager, under intense pressure from superiors, denies an employee a promised day off. What is most striking to me is, as mentioned earlier, that inescapable fact that no single individual is ever freed from the responsibility of making ethical decisions themselves, no matter the size of the organization or the stakes in play. Ethics, in fact, is the field in which the lowest-ranked employee is empowered as much as any CEO, because each critically determines what the values of the business are. Either through silent support of policies or decisions questionable, as with overt support of proper ethical choices made, all employees define the essential character of the business.
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