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harvard business review on corporate ethics


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  • Reviewing today’s most pressing questions about business behaviour has become a priority in today’s corporate environment. In deciding how to act, managers reveal their inner values, test their commitment to those value, and ultimately shape their characters.
  • This book is designed to bring today’s manager and professionals the fundamental information they need to stay competitive in a fast – moving world.
  • We don’t need another Hero (JOSEPH L. BADARACCO JR.)
  • Ethics without the Sermon (LAURA L. NASH)
  • Why ‘Good’ managers make Bad Ethical Choices (SAUL W. GELLERMAN)
  • Ethics in Practice (KENNETH R. ANDREWS)
  • Managing for Organizational Integrity (LYNN SHARP PAINE)
  • Values in Tension: Ethics away from Home (THOMAS DONALDSON)
  • The Discipline of Building Character (JOSEPH L. BADARACCO JR.)
  • The Parable of the Sadhu (BOWEN H. MCCOY)
about the authors
  • JOSEPH L. BADARACCO JR.-He is the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School. He teaches courses on strategy, general management and business ethics in the School’s M.B.A. and Executive Programs.
  • LAURA L. NASH- She is S.R.F. at Harvard Business School and founding partner of Piper Cove Asset management consultancy.
  • KENNETH R. ANDREWS- He was the Donald K David Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School.

LYNN SHARP PAINE: She is John G . McLean Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

  • THOMAS DONALDSON: He was a Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he taught Business Ethics.
  • BOWEN H. McCOY:He was real estate and Business counselor a teacher and a philanthropist.
  • SAUL W. GELLERMAN- He was the dean of the University of Dallas Graduate School of management.
we don t need another hero


- Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.

  • Modesty and restraint are largely responsible for the achievements of the most effective moral leaders in business.
  • According to the author, the quiet leaders he has studied follow four basic rule in meeting ethical challenges and making decisions. The rules are:
  • Put things off till tomorrow
  • Pick your battles
  • Bend the rules, don’t break them
  • Find a compromise
two ethical approaches
  • Heroic Leadership (Public Display of Heroism)
  • Quiet Leadership
put things off till tomorrow
  • When ethical dilemmas heat up, quiet leaders often look for ways to buy time.
  • Careful execution of this tactic can spell the difference between success and failure.
  • The passage of time allows turbulent waters to calm.
  • It also lets leaders analyse the subtle ways in which individuals and events interact-it lets them look for patterns and watch for opportunities to arise from the flow of events.
  • More important, sound moral instincts have a chance to emerge.
pick your battles
  • Political capital is the hard currency of organisational life.
  • One earn it by establishing a reputation for getting things done and having a network of people who can appreciate and reward once efforts.
  • Political capital is hard to accumulate and devilishly easy to dissipate. That’s why quiet leader invest it astutely and use it with care.
  • Before they take stands or tackle tough problems, quiet leaders calculate how much political capital they are putting at risk and what they can expect in return.
  • In other words, they pick their battles wisely.
bend the rules don t break them
  • Most of us don’t associate bending the rules with moral leadership. But following the rules can be the moral copout.
  • Between the trivial and the tragic are many everyday situation in which responsible people work hard to find ways to maneuver within the boundaries set by the rules instead of acting like moral book keepers, they bend the rules and own up to their deeper responsibilities.
  • In complex ethical situation bending the rule is never easy and certainly not fun. Indeed, bending the rules- as opposed to breaking them- is hard work. It requires imagination, discipline and restrained along with flexibility entrepreneurship.
find a compromise
  • Compromise has a bad reputation in some circles. Many of us believe that good people- moral people- refuse to compromise. They tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and they are always fair.
  • Quiet leaders understand this view of moral principle but they don’t find it particularly useful in most situation. They reject the idea that moral principles can be treated like salami and sacrificed slice by slice but they try not to see situations as black and white test of ethical principles. For this reason crafting responsible, workable compromises is not just something that quiet leader occasionally do. It defines who they are.

The quiet moral leaders focuses on small thing, careful moves, controlled and measured efforts. The quiet approach to leadership is easy to misunderstood and mock. It doesn't inspire and thrill. In contrast to Heroic leadership, quiet leadership doesn’t show us the heights that human spirit can reach. The vast majority of difficult human problems are not solved by the dramatic efforts of people at the top but the constant striving of people working far from the limelight.


The author introduced a procedure to test pragmaticallythe ethical content and human fallout of everyday decisions in business and other organizational settings. “Twelve Questions for Examining the Ethics of a Business Decision” poses the 12 Questions.

The twelve questions are a way to articulate an idea of the responsibilities involved and to lay them open for examination.

twelve questions for examining the ethics of a business decision
Twelve Questions for Examining the Ethics of a Business Decision
  • Have you defined the problem accurately?
  • How would you define the problem when you stood on other side of the fence?
  • How did this situation occur in the first place?
  • To whom and to what do you give your loyalty as a person and a member of the corporation?
  • What is your intention in making this decision?
  • How does this intention compare with the probable results?
  • Whom could your decision or action injure?
twelve questions for examining the ethics of a business decision contd
Twelve Questions for Examining the Ethics of a Business Decision (Contd.)

8. Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision?

9. Are you confident that your position will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now?

10. Could you disclose without qualm your decision or action to your boss, your CEO, the Board of Directors, your family, society as a whole?

11. What is the symbolic potential of your action if understood? If misunderstood?

12. Under what conditions would you allow exceptions to your stand?

the good puppy theory
The ‘Good Puppy’ Theory
  • Most rigorous moral analogy to good corporation would be the ‘good man’. The activities of this kind of good corporation imply a heavy responsibility to collectively know the good and to resolve to achieve it.
  • Next, there is the purely amoral definition of good a in a ‘good martini’ – an amoral fulfillment of a largely inanimate and functional purpose.
  • Halfway between these two views lies the good as in “good puppy” – here goodness consists primarily of the fulfillment of a social contract that centres on avoiding social injury.

The situation for testing business ethics remain complex. But by avoiding theoretical enquiry and limiting the expectations of corporate goodness to a few rules for social behaviour that are based on common sense, we can develop an ethic that is appropriate to the language, ideology and institutional dynamics of business decision- making and consensus.


The author explores the numerous rationalizations that lead to unethical behaviour. He offers practical suggestions to help ensure the preservation of ethical propriety; establish clear ethical guidelines for all employees; stress formally and regularly that loyalty of the company does not excuse acts that jeopardize its good name; teach managers, “When in doubt, don’t”; have company watchdogs to sniff out possible misdeeds; raise the frequency and unpredictability of audits and spot checks; when you detect a trespass, make the punishment quick, meaningful and public. Above all, listen to your own moral voice. Chances are it’s there saying “don’t”.

four rationalization
Four Rationalization
  • A belief that the activity is within reasonable ethical and legal limit – that is, that it is not “really” illegal or immoral.
  • A belief that the activity is in the individual’s or the corporation’ best interests- that the individual will somehow be expected to undertake the activity.
  • A belief that the activity is “safe” because it will never be found out or publicized; the classic crime-and-punishment issue of discovery.
  • A belief that because the activity helps the company the company will condone it and even protect the person who engages in it.

A good way to avoid management oversights is to subject the control mechanisms themselves to periodic surprise audit. The focus should be to make sure that internal audits and control are functioning as planned. In the end, it is up to the top management to send clear and pragmatic message to all employees that good ethics is still the foundation of good business.

ethics in practice


- Kenneth R. Andrews


The author argues that ethical failure are not only an individual’ fault but that are management problem too.

CEOs, directors, and other senior executives can readily raise their organizations ethical standard- once they make up their mind to do so.

To the author, business ethics is a challenge with three parts:

  • Developing managers as moral individuals
  • Building an environment in which standards and value are central to the company’s strategy, just as economic purpose is
  • Formulating and implementing policies that support ethical performance- as well as safeguards to assure that they are observed.
ethics in practice contd
  • Rules and lectures alone, however can’t create a moral company. The essence of management responsibility is the need to balance conflicting claims, to make decision when there are no clear choices or absolute answers.
  • In such situations, the character of the decision- maker is decisive. And this is specially true when the decision maker is the CEO. That is why an explicit estimate of a candidate’s character should be part of every management selection process.
  • Company that are successful over time build their success on the creativity, the energy, and the will of the members. Such decisions can’t be sustained by strategic decisions that are ethically unsound.
  • The author argues that ethics is as much an organizational as a personal issue.
  • Executives who ignore ethics runs the risk of personal and corporate liability in an increasingly tough legal environment. In addition they deprive their organization of the benefits available under new federal guidelines which recognize for the first time the organizational and managerial roots of unlawful conduct and base lines partly on the extent to which companies had taken steps to prevent that misconduct.
  • Prompted by the prospect of leniency, many companies are rushing to implement Compliance based ethics program or the Integrity based approach.
compliance based program
Compliance- Based Program

These programs are designed by the corporate counsel and the Goal of these program is to prevent, detect and punish legal violations. Such programs tend to emphasize the prevention of unlawful conduct, primarily by increasing surveillance and control and by imposing penalties for wrongdoers.

A compliance approach to ethics overemphasizes the threat of detection and punishment in order to channel behaviour in lawful directions.

integrity based approach to ethics management
Integrity Based Approach to Ethics Management

It combines a concern for the law with an emphasis on managerial responsibility for ethical behaviour. While integrity strategy will differ in design and scope, all strive to define companies guiding values, aspirations and patterns of thoughts and conduct. When integrated into the day-to-day operations of a company, such strategies can help prevent damaging ethical lapses, while tapping into powerful human impulses for moral thought and action.

While compliance is rooted in avoiding legal sanctions, organizational integrity is based on the concept of self- governance in accordance with the set of guiding principles.

methods of training and imbibe ethical culture
  • Code of Conduct
  • Training in relevant areas of law
  • Mechanisms for reporting and investigating
  • Sears Automotive: fake repairs

Cost of settlement: $60 million

good examples of integrity approach
Good Examples of Integrity Approach
  • Martin Marietta Corp
  • NovaCare
good examples of integrity approach1
Good Examples of Integrity Approach
  • Martin Marietta Corp
  • NovaCare
the hallmarks of an integrity strategy
The Hallmarks of an Integrity Strategy
  • The guiding value and commitments make sense and are clearly communicated.
  • Company leaders are personally committed, credible and willing to take action on the values they espouse.
  • The espoused values are integrated into the normal channels of management decision making and are reflected in organization’s critical activities.
  • The company’s system and structures support and reinforce its values
  • Managers throughout the company have the decision- making skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to make ethically sound decisions on a day to day basis
  • Ethics and values vary from country to country
  • Is it important for a company to establish their ethical values while conducting business at home or in foreign country?


  • Do as romans do in Rome ?
  • The author says that when managers are left in a ethical dilemma when they encounter business practices that seem unethical then instead of either getting stuck in the spirit of Cultural relativism or taking the absolutist approach, the answer lies somewhere in between.
  • Some activities are wrong no matter where they take place. Dumping pollutants for unprotected workers to handle is one example of a practice that violates what the author calls core human values, respect for Human dignity and good citizenship. But some practices that are ethical in one part of the world might be ethical in another.
  • Many business practices are neither black nor white but exit in grey zone, a moral free space through which managers must navigate.
  • It believes that there is single list of truths , that can be explained only with the one set of concepts and that they call for exactly the same behavior around the world.
balancing the extremes three guiding principles
Balancing the extremes: Three Guiding Principles

Companies must help managers distinguish between practices that are merely different and those that are wrong. When it come to shaping ethical behaviour, companies must be guided by three principles:

  • Respect for core human values, which determine the absolute moral threshold for all business activities.
  • Respect for local traditions
  • The belief that context matters when deciding what is right and what is wrong.
conflicts of development and conflict of tradition
Conflicts of Development and Conflict of Tradition

Conflict of Relative Development:

In this type of conflict, ethical standards conflict because of the countries different levels of economic development. As economic development in a developing country improve, the incidence of that sort of conflict usually decreases.

Conflict of Cultural Tradition:

This kind of conflict is due to strongly held religious and cultural beliefs that differs between countries and any increase in the country’s level of economic development which is quite high is not likely to change rules.

Ex – Saudi Arabia does not allow women to work as corporate manager, instead women can work only in few profession such as education and health care. The prohibition stems from strong held religious and cultural beliefs.

resolving conflicts
Resolving Conflicts

How To Resolve Conflict of Relative Development ?

To resolve this conflict manger must ask the question would the practice acceptable at home if my country were in similar stage of development.

How To Resolve Conflict of Cultural Tradition:

Manager should deem a practice permissible only if they can answer “no” to both of the following questions

  • Is it possibly to conduct business successfully in the host country without undertaking the practice?
  • Is it practice a violation of core human value?

Ex- Japanese gift giving

guidelines for ethical leadership
Guidelines for Ethical Leadership
  • Treat corporate values and formal standard of conduct as absolutes.
  • Design and Implement conditions of engagement for suppliers and customers.
  • Allow foreign business unit to help formulate ethical standards and interpret ethical issues.
  • In host countries, support efforts to decrease institutional corruption.
  • Exercise moral imagination.
  • Many people think of values as soft ; to some they are usually unspoken. In a global business values in tension are the rule rather than the exception. Without the companies commitment statements of values and code of ethics end up as empty platitudes that provide mangers with no foundation for behaving ethically.
the discipline of building charecter


- Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.

  • An ethical decision typically choosing between two options- one we know to be right and another we know to be wrong.
  • A defining moment challenges us in a deeper way by asking us to choose between two or more ideals in which we deeply believes.
  • Such decisions rarely have any “correct” response . Taken cumulatively over many years day from the basic of the individual character.
  • Defining moments ask executive to dig below the busy surface of their life's and refocus on their core values and principles.
  • Once uncovered those values and principles renew their senses of purpose at the work place act as a springboard for shrewd, pragmatic politically astute action's
the discipline of building character contd
  • Three types of defining moments are common in today’s workplace
    • Who am I ? Defining moments for individual
    • Who are we ? Defining moments for work groups
    • Who is the company? Defining moments for executive
who am i
Who am I ?
  • The most basic type of defining moment demands that managers resolve an urgent issue of personal identity that has serious implication for their careers. Two “rights” present themselves, each one representing a plausible and usually attractive life choice. In most cases both choices are right, so the manager must make choice of “right versus right”.
who are we
Who are we ?
  • As managers move up in an organisation defining moments become more difficult to resolve. In addition to looking at the situation as the conflict between two personal beliefs managers must add another dimension: the values of their work groups and their responsibilities to the people they manage.
who is the company
Who is the Company
  • The men and women charged with the running entire company sometimes face an even more complex type of defining moments
  • They are asked to manifest their understanding of what is right on a large stage – one that can include labour union, media, share holder, and many other company stakeholders.
  • These decision foce top level mangers to commit not just themselves or their work groups but htier entire company to an irreversible course of action.
the story of steve lewis
The Story of Steve Lewis
  • Who is Steve Lewis?
    • An African-American working for a well known investment bank in Manhattan
    • A former athlete and a Team player
  • What is the situation?
    • Steve was selected over more senior people to give presentation to an important client
    • He knew little about the situation
    • Was included because state treasurer was a black and wants at least one black in the meeting
the story of peter adario
The Story of Peter Adario

Peter Adario, another central figure in the book, is a mid-level manager caught in a situation where there is a conflict between his personal values and the professional obligations he has as employee/manager dedicated to serve the best interest of his employer. This type of conflict occurs on a monthly, if not weekly basis for many managers.

story of edward sakiz
Story of Edward Sakiz
  • Early a decade ago. Late in 1988, the senior management of Paris-based Roussel-Uclaf had to decide where and how to market a new drug, called RU 486.
  • Early tests had shown that the drug was 90 to 95 percent effective in causing a miscarriage during the first five weeks of pregnancy. The drug came to be known as "the French abortion pill," and Roussel-Uclaf and its managers found themselves at the vortex of the abortion controversy.
story of edward sakiz contd
Story of Edward Sakiz(contd.)
  • The chairman of Roussel-Uclaf, Edward Sakiz, was a physician with a longstanding personal commitment to RU 486. He would make the final decisions on introducing the drug. Earlier in his career, while working as a medical researcher, Dr. Sakiz had helped develop the chemical compound on which RU 486 was based. He believed strongly that the drug could help thousands of women, particularly in poor countries, avoid injury or death from botched abortions. In the developed world, he believed, RU 486 would provide women and physicians with a valuable alternative to surgical abortions.
story of edward sakiz contd1
Story of Edward Sakiz(contd.)

At a personal level, Dr. Sakiz faced a version of the question,

  • Who am I? Was he, first and foremost, a medical doctor, a scientific researcher, an advocate of women's rights, or a corporate executive with responsibilities to shareholders and employees? In addition, his decision on RU 486 would commit his company to some values rather than others, thereby answering the organizational question,
  • Who are we? The prospect of introducing RU 486 placed Dr. Sakiz at the center of a network of responsibilities to important groups and institutions outside Roussel-Uclaf. Among these were the French Government, which owned 36 percent of Roussel-Uclaf, and the French Ministry of Health, which closely regulated the company, thus shaping its business opportunities.

To resolve their toughest business challenges, executives need to refocus on their core values. Self inquiry must lead to shrewd, persuasive and self confident action if it is to be an effective tool. Managers need to determine if their ethical vision will be supported by their coworkers and employees .To succeed top level executives must negotiate their ethical vision with share holders, customers, and employees.

the parable of the sadhu


- Bowen H. McCoy

case facts
Case Facts
  • Based on a real life incident of Bowen H. McCoy, MD of Morgan Stanley
  • On a trip to Himalaya for 60 days • During the trek he met people of different nationalities
  • One of the New Zealander found an Indian Sadhu
  • The Sadhu was shivering & suffering from Hypothermia
  • Everybody contributed in reviving the Sadhu However, nobody took complete responsibility for the Sadhu’s well being
ethical dilemma
Ethical Dilemma
  • Every person did their bit for the Sadhu
  • However, no one ensured the ultimate well being of the Sadhu
  • Where does the ethical responsibility of an individual end
  • Is there something called collective or institutional responsibility?
  • There is a decline in the role of the individual in large organisations. Individual who operate from a thoughtful set of personal values provide the foundation for a corporate culture. A corporate tradition that encourages freedom of inquiry, supports personal values and reinforces a focussed sense of direction can fulfil the need to combine individuality with the prosperity and success of the group. Without Such corporate support the individual is lost.