Professional skills and ethics is a very important subject as it prepares us for the future work and makes it easier to adapt in any society. I would say that it might be even more important than the professional subjects as all the theory we learn at the other modules is irrelevant in the workplace as every employer has specific way of doing the job and every new employee gets some training. However the topics covered in this module are not the part of the professional training and therefore learning this in the university increases your employability and helps people to see same things in different colours. This paper consists of two parts:
Part a - Professional Ethics
Professional ethics is reasonably new topic in the business as the term only came into use in early 60's. (Audra Jones) It was introduced after the increasing globalization, as people became more aware that their actions affect more than one area. One of the main developments in this area was the introduction of the concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and stakeholders. (Li Sun) In this paper I will analyze the key implications of CSR and try to present some evidence of it from my former workplace.
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Part b - Professional Skills
Professional skills are the skills that anybody will need to be successful in their future workplace. In this module we covered some very important topics that made me over think some of the situations that occurred in my past and now I see the same moments in different perspective. Therefore in part b of this essay I will analyze two topics that made the biggest impact on me, and will try to analyze how are they going to help me in my future career.
3. Theoretical Background
As I mentioned before this part is conducted to analyse the importance of professional ethics and try to investigate my formal workplace in contrast to the theoretical concepts. In order to analyse the company it is essential to understand the concepts of professional ethics. Probably the main theory of professional ethics is the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR, alongside with the term stakeholders, first appeared in late 60's - early 70's. (Audra Jones) It is really hard to define this theory and therefore every author has his favourite definition. I would suggest using the description originally published by Lord Holm: "Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large". (Jon Burchell) There are four main aspects of CSR: Economic responsibilities, Legal responsibilities, Ethical responsibilities and Philanthropic responsibilities. (André Habisch) The best way to illustrate this is the Carroll's pyramid:
Source: Archie B. Carroll, Ann K. Buchholtz "Business and Society: Ethics and Stakeholder Management"
As we can see Carroll ranked all four responsibilities by its importance:
Economic Responsibilities - this implies that a company is responsible to shareholders, who are seeking reasonable returns; employees, who want safe and well paid jobs; customers, who want a good product and good prices etc. (André Habisch)
Legal responsibilities - this states that a company is responsible to follow the rules and laws. (André Habisch)
Ethical responsibilities - these are probably the hardest, as they change constantly according to society. It implies that the company has to do what is right thing to do and be fair to all the society. (Archie B. Carroll)
Philanthropic responsibilities - fourth level of CSR addresses various issues, such as donations to charity, support of local schools and sponsoring sports events. (André Habisch)
According to Whooley (2004) any company that wants to include CSR into their business, has to fulfil all four responsibilities in 4 key areas:
There is a theory that participating in corporate social responsibility activities can lead to higher future productivity. (Li Sun) However Milton Friedman argued that all the emphasis of the company should be put upon maximizing shareholders wealth and therefore the philanthropic responsibility should be excluded from any companies operations. He argued that it is unfair to spend money on things that will not improve firms profitability. (Zachary Cheers)
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As I mentioned the concept of CSR came along with a term stakeholders. Freeman suggested the following definition: "Any group or individual who can affect or who is affected by the achievement of firms objectives". (Jörg Andriof) Hopkins underlined 7 main types of stakeholders:
5. Natural Environment
6. Civil Society
4. Case Study
Now as we covered the theory behind the professional ethics, I will try to analyse my former workplace. Last summer I worked as a manager in Belarusian Gas Company "Belfuel". The company was producing gas, oil and other kinds of fuel. Our office was responsible for the transit of peat briquettes from Belarus to Scandinavia through the Lithuanian port. It is best illustrated by the following framework:
Our company, like any other corporation, was mainly concentrated on improving the profitability of the company. Therefore the main concern of the company was to establish good relationships with our partners and buyers. If we analyse "Belfuel" according to 4 main responsibilities of CSR I can definitely state that only economical, ethical and legal responsibilities were fulfilled. Philanthropic was not fulfilled because company had really strict policy of not donating, we can say that they were promoting the views of Friedman, who stated: "It is undemocratic for corporations to use shareholders' funds to support charities or other good causes". (Colin M. Fisher)
Further in this section I will try to show how "Belfulel" is integrating CSR into their marketplace and what are the main difficulties that the company is facing.
4.1 CSR in the Marketplace
Our company was very concerned about keeping close and reliable relations with our customers, because our office was new and it was essential to have loyal customers in order to establish successful business. One of the ways in which "Belfuel" was making sure customers are satisfied is that we had a well established transporting ways and were very punctual. Every shipment was reaching the buyer on the designated day or within 24 hours after. Following every shipment we had a conference over the internet with the buyer and discussed if they were satisfied. Our company was also very concerned about the quality of the product and therefore every shipment was tested in special labs. This shows that "Belfuel" really cared about their customers. But customers are not the only sector of marketplace that was concerning our company. As I already mentioned we were really worried about establishing reliable transportation of the product. And therefore we made sure that all the logistics companies were paid in full and on time.
It was very important for our company to make sure that all the operations are within the laws and are all covered in the contracts with our customers. This was actually my responsibility as a manager. It was a lot of work as every shipment had to pass two borders. Therefore we needed to obey the laws of three different countries: Belarus, Lithuania and the final destination country. In order to make sure we are operating within the laws and regulations of all the countries, our company had a legal adviser, who's responsibility was to monitor every shipment and report to me or any other manager if something was wrong.
It might seem that our company successfully integrated CSR into their business, however this is not entirely true. Because it is extremely hard to satisfy all the stakeholders with all the decisions. For example as I mentioned we always tried to increase the profits of the company and therefore we were increasing the production and sales. If we look at what impact did it have on different stakeholders, it becomes clear that all the CSR requirements were not fully met. It is best to look at the impact that increase in production and sales had on each single stakeholder:
1. Owners (good) - the increase in profitability of the company meant that owners get bigger dividends.
2. Management (neutral)- on one hand an increase in amount of paperwork for the same salary made them worse off, however the bigger profitability of the company meant an improvement in working conditions. (i.e. the introduction of relaxation room, where people can relax have a coffee and for a moment forget about the work)
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3. Employees (neutral) - same as managers
4. Customers (good) - the increase in production meant that our customers were able to buy more and therefore the price was decreasing.
5. Natural Environment (very bad) - the increase in production of peat briquettes meant the increase in waste that is produced and dumped into the environment, therefore every extra unit produced had a negative impact on the surrounding environment.
6. Civil Society (very bad) - the increase in production meant the increase in fumes that were released in the atmosphere and therefore people living in the towns around the factory had to breath very polluted air.
7. Contractors/Suppliers (good) - the increase in sales meant more work for our contractors (logistics companies) and therefore they got bigger revenue.
As we can see only 3 stakeholders were better off after this decision. Therefore we can state that CSR was not fully integrated in our business.
As I already mentioned this part is devoted to analysing professional skills, and their importance in my life. Firstly, before I came to do my masters in the university of Hull, I already had some essential skills developed and had some working experience. According to the recommendation letter that I received from my former workplace, I can say that my strengths are:
Analytical and problem solving skills
Excellent communication skills and Charisma
However, nobody is perfect. I also had quite a few weaknesses. Before I came to the university I have never worked in multi-national group. Therefore the fact that every time in classes we were put into multinational groups, helped me to developed the general knowledge about working in diversified communities. The other thing that I learnt is responsible leadership. This is going to be very important in my further life, as I will be working at a managerial position and therefore I will need to lead people. Now I would like to talk about these two things in more detail.
5. Managing Cross Cultural Teams
This skill is essential in the modern society, because in recent decades there was a lot of unprecedented cross-national migration all over the world. (Vas Taras) According to the article in "the guardian" people are most tempted to migrate to USA, Canada, Australia and European union. Different nationalities have different cultures and it makes it hard to manage. The fact that I will probably stay in Europe after my studies made me concentrate on this topic.
First of all it is essential to understand what are the main differences of cultures and how are they defined. There are 8 definitions of culture: Topical, Historical , Behavioural, Normative, Functional , Mental, Structural, Symbolic. (Larry L. Naylor)
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Source: Browaeys and Price, 2011: 115
All these areas show that people are different in various ways. Therefore it is essential to learn how to generalize the differences and make it simpler. One of the ways is to use Hofstede model. He generalized all the differences and put them into 5 groups: Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity, Long-term versus Short-term Orientation. (Silvio De Bono) However for the purpose of the research I will only describe 2 that appeared to be very important to me:
Power-distance is the degree to which people in a country accept a hierarchical and unequal distribution of power, and this is clearly shown in their attitudes in organizations (Wood et al. 2004) For example after working with cross-cultural groups I can tell that Russian people are not against inequality, when English people cannot stand unequal distribution of power and always want to be treated equally to everybody else. The following table presents PDD figures of some countries (Higher the score, more people are used to inequality):
Individualism vs Collectivism - this implies that some cultures are more concerned about themselves and put the emphasis on individual freedom, individual initiative, individual achievement and individual recognition. While the others are more thoughtful about group identity, group affiliation, group achievement and group recognition. (Misra) For example, after working in some cross-cultural groups I realized that Chinese people are tend to communicate a lot between themselves, while Russian people are more likely to take the initiative and do the work themselves. Here are some figures of Individualism-Collectivist Dimension (ICD):
An the last difference of cultures, which I found to be very useful to know is the difference in communication. This is basically the difference in the way various cultures present the information and list the tasks. There are two types:
High-Context - when most of the thoughts exchanged during the conversation are not said through words. This means information is hidden, therefore less detailed instructions are given. (Larry A. Samovar)
Low-Context - is completely opposite. Every time anybody communicates with low-context culture, he has to explain everything in smallest detail and be really straightforward.
When I came to the University, I was used to Russian culture, which is very high-context, and all the information is told in couple words. However during my studies I realized that some nationalities, for example Chinese, require different style of talking- more direct. Therefore I practised my low-context communication skills and I think became better at managing cross-cultural teams, as I know much more about different nations that I used to. The following table presents some examples of high and low context countries:
Source: Deborah Barrett (2006)
Finally it was essential to understand what are the advantages and disadvantages of cross-cultural team. It is best to look at them side to side, forming a table:
Source: Browaeys, M.J. and Price, R. (2011)
And the final and probably the most important thing that I have learnt about cross-cultural teams is the way to manage them. Schneider and Barsoux (2003) suggest the following table that explains the strategy of managing different conflicts in cultures:
Creating a sense of purpose:
What are the team's goals/objectives can they be measured?
Who should be a member of a team and their priority?
Task vs relationship, Being vs doing, Hierarchy, Individual vs collective, High vs low context,
Monochronic vs polychronic
Structuring the task
Who should do what?
How should time and deadlines be managed?
Uncertainty avoidance, Monochronic vs polychronic, High vs low context
Assigning roles and responsibility
Who does what, who is responsible?
Should a leader be assigned? Based on what criteria?
Individual vs collective, Power and status, Uncertainty avoidance, Task vs relationship
How is making decisions (Leader vs team, voting or leader decides)?
Hierarchy, Individual vs collective, High vs low context
How is trust developed?
Task vs relationship, High vs low context, Monochronic vs polychronic
Choosing how to communicate
What is the working language? Who decides?
What is the communication technology to be used?
Power, Individual vs collective, High vs low context, Monochronic vs polychronic
How to ensure participation of all members?
Who listen to whom? Who interrupts whom?
Power, Individual vs collective
How is conflicts managed?
Task vs relationship, Power, Individual vs collective
How and when to evaluate performance?
Is evaluation two-way process?
Power, Individual vs collective, High vs low context
Source: Schneider and Barsoux (2003)
So after covering all the theory behind the cross-cultural management, I am much more confident to manage an international team in the future.
6. Responsible Leadership
Responsible leadership is an essential quality for anybody who wants to work at a managerial position. And the fact that I already have experience in working as a manager made me very interested in this particular topic. The concept of responsible leadership is not new, and effective leadership was always characterized by responsibility. (Yukl 2002) The best quote about having power was said by Voltaire: "With great power comes great responsibility". It is very important to understand that if you are a leader it is not only your team that you manage, your decisions are influencing more global layers. Therefore there is a theory that any decision made within a group might influence the whole everybody. (Maak & Pless, 2006) This is best illustrated with a target model:
source: Maak & Pless, 2006
Responsible leadership is sustainable in itself, built on business that is of benefit to multiple stakeholders.( Solomon Oluwasen Oyeniran) Usually we can divide the responsibilities of a leader into five different areas: shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and environment or society. (Maak & Pless, 2006) It is better to look at the following framework:
After analysing this we can see that it is very complicated to make a decision that will benefit to all. This helped me because when I covered all the theory about this topic, I realised that most of the decisions we made during my work in 'Belfuel" were not good examples of responsible leadership. For example we always tried to increase the revenue, therefore we were constantly increasing the production of peat briquettes and finding new buyers. Even though it seems like a smart decision it was not good for the environment as factories were releasing fumes and waste to the atmosphere and therefore increasing air pollution. Also the big factor affecting the pollution was the fact that we had more shipments and therefore trains and ships were running more often. The other area that suffered was employees, because after the increase in the amount of operations everybody had almost twice as much work as before for the same amount of money. After consulting with this theory and analysing different decisions made in the company I have learnt a valuable lesson. Therefore this topic helped me to look at the same decisions differently and maybe in the future I will make a different decision.
In the conclusion I would like to summarise all the key aspects of both parts of an essay. In the first part of the paper we learned that corporate social responsibility is a debatable theory. Some researchers think that it can improve the business and the others argue that it is a waste of shareholders money. We also learned that every decision of the company affects a lot of different stakeholders and with a help of a case study we found out that it is extremely hard to please all of them. It showed that even the decisions that might be seen as common sense, could have a negative impact in some areas. Therefore making it very hard, if not impossible to fully integrate CSR into the business.
In the second part of the paper, I have analyzed the key areas that I have learned myself in this module. Now I can state that it was very important to attend a module like that, because even though I had quite a bit of professional experience in the past and have already developed some key professional skills, I have never worked in international group. Therefore learning the differences of various nationalities was crucial. And it was very important that it was not only based on the theory, every tutorial me being the part of international group helped me to learn the differences in practice. And as we know theory without practice is worth nothing. Another very important topic for me was the concept of responsible leadership. This topic helped me to see some situations in my past in different colours. All the decisions made by me in my past workplaces seem not so smart and good as I used to think. Now I realize that those decisions were only good for the owners and company itself, however I was never thinking about the environment and other people, not involved in the company.
All in all I think this module was essential for everybody, and as I mentioned in the introduction I think it might be one of the most important subjects in the whole degree, because your learn something that you never even thought about. Therefore you can say that with the help of Professional skills and Ethics we have learned how to think more globally and see same things in different ways. And in my opinion it is very important.