Being consulted by various individuals regarding situations that represent or could potentially have ethical implications has given rise to questions as to how to best act on potential threats to our organizational culture, and how to respond to any potential threats to our business now, and in the future. The Ethics Review Committee will convene to discuss two matters that have been reported. Some type of recognition or reward may be appropriate for those who comply with policies.
If situations of noncompliance are suspected, they should be investigated to the company’s guidelines; if violations are uncovered, they should result in appropriate punitive measures. Investigations and any actions should be equally applied to all relevant individuals. Any deviations in the treatment of transgressions could send the wrong signal to employees that policies may not apply to everyone, and in turn may encourage others to test the limits of the code of conduct. (M.U.S.E., 2012, para. 1)
As we venture into a new paradigm, we transcend bureaucracy on a greater reflection of contemporary moral analysis. By proactively constructing the framework to guide us in making appropriate decisions, we learn to blend business reasoning with ethical standards, ultimately embodied, and projected by ethical theory of choice. It’s with a higher reasoning ability that we further develop our management change model that provides for the continuous implementation of the code of conduct. In the process, we will find in our culture both desirable behavior, and undesirable behavior. We will need to identify with each.
If we are acting on the premise of the utilitarian whose mode of operandi is for the good of all what questions should we be asking of those who we feel are not living up to our code of conduct? Do we overlook one wrong if it’s for the good of all, or do we determine the consequence of the act to determine whether it’s right or wrong? Are we more concerned about the consequences, the results of an act rather than the act itself? Or, is the consequence of an act secondary?
Do we ask why an act was committed, and determine the rightness or wrongness of the act without consideration of what the actual consequences of the act are? In other words, do we guide our culture here at ECG by rational evaluation of the consequences of our acts, or according to duty and principle-that, which ought to be? If, in fact, we measure the “prescriptive force as being independent of its consequence, then we determine that all of us have the autonomous, self-legislating wills that permit us to formulate and act on our own systems of rules” (McAdams, 2008, p. 69). That is, according to Kant’s categorical imperative, what is right for one is right for all, and each of us can discover that right by exercising our rational faculties. Thus, are we to judge the act of a senior executive at ECG and her spouse who have a previously undisclosed financial interest in Government Allies, and who will notably profit from the acquisition to have advocated moving forward with the acquisition because of their own potential to profit, or should we realize that the effort to move forward with the acquisition as having an unrelated self-less motive with the possibility of the only interest being that of ECG.
Knowing how to answer questions like this is a process.
Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built and empirically tested a comprehensive theory of moral development in which he claimed that moral judgment evolves and improves primarily as a function of age and education. Kohlberg identified six universal stage grouped into three levels:
Stage 1: Obey rules to avoid punishment.
Stage 2: Follow rules only if it is in own interest, but let others do the same. Conform to secure rewards.
2 Conventional Level:
Stage 3: Conform to meet the expectations of others. Please others. Adhere to stereotypical images.
Stage 4: Doing right in one’s duty. Obey the law. Uphold the social order.
3 Post conventional or principled level:
Stage 5: Current laws and values are relative. Laws and duty are obeyed on rational calculations to serve the greatest number.
Stage 6: Follow self-chosen universal ethical principles. In the event of conflicts, principles override laws. (McAdams et al., 2012, p. 74)
Kohlberg’s findings suggest that many individuals never pass beyond level 2. “Thus, the Level 2 manager might refrain” from communicating or disclosing information with respect to buying, selling, recommending or trading company securities or financial instruments because doing so would be a violation of company policy, and quite possibly a violation of federal and state laws as well. (McAdams, et al., 2012, p. 75) A manager at level 3 might reach the same conclusion, but his or her decision would be based on independently defined universal principles of justice. “If Kohlberg was correct, many managers may behave unethically simply because they have not reached the upper stages of moral maturity” (McAdams, et al., 2012, p. 75). Our objective is to elevate the thought process of our learning organizational culture to where individuals learn to apply sound judgment while realizing the knowing of choosing the right; if in question follow the code.
Although Kohlberg’s theory would seem to be applicable, the subjects of his study were all males which might indicate a bias between the way men process information, and the way women mature. Carol Gilligan suggests that a morality of care exists with women, and is a substitute for Kohlberg’s theory built on the view of justice and rights among men. “In her view, the morality of caring and responsibility is premised in nonviolence, while morality of justice and rights is based on equality” (Nucci, 2008, para. 38).
Although she presents the distinctions as being separate, they are in her view potentially connected. She attributes the differences to the differences in earlier stages of development that are connected with the mother. In her view, boys are keener to recognize inequalities and the notion of fairness than girls because girls stay connected to their mothers for a longer period of time. Later research shows that moral development does not necessarily follow the gender lines that she suggests, but rather that both boys and girls reach moral maturity based on justice and care. The importance of Gilligan’s work is in the new awareness that “care is an integral component of moral reasoning” (Nucci, 2008, para. 41).
Interestingly the knowledge of these studies is often enough to teach the developmental stages of moral maturity to such a degree that there is a basic understanding in why and how we reach the conclusions that we do, and why we can claim a positive response to having such knowledge as being a key to the further development of our ethical corporate culture. However, knowing how to identify potential ethical dilemmas and the understanding of moral analysis are only good to the company when combined with sound business logic. How does a potential breach of trust or a violation of the code of conduct affect the business? And, how should we assess appropriate justification, if there is a potential business threat or a breach of conduct? Should we ask if there “is there adequate evidence to support the reasonable belief that a particular act or omission has occurred?” (FAC, 2005, 2.1-1) Knowing how to answer these questions is also a process. It’s a strategic process, one where we have already realized the answers to the questions, but have not yet defined the questions to the answers. Thus, we must expound the code of conduct to include just such questions.
Recently, we learned one of the members of the ECG team who has been working on a competitive bid on a lucrative IT consulting contract for X TelCo has previously worked within the industry. He worked with two of the current executives at X TelCo, who are among those to review bids. Initially unknown to the ECG team, this employee also maintains occasional contact with his former coworkers. And, it has come under our attention that this person recently contacted the executives to secure additional information about the bid process and promoting the firm’s capabilities.
Could the activity or transaction be perceived as a potential conflict by others? Is the activity being offered or requested in an attempt to influence X TelCo, or ECG’s judgment? Will participation in the activity or transaction affect a customer’s or the team’s judgment?
Will the continued participation in the pursuit of the contract with X TelCo affect the employee’s ability to be objective with regard to any business decisions the team will have to make in respect to the bid for X TelCo? Just exactly what was the intent of this employee’s involvement with the executives from X TelCo?
The questions are defined by the words: perception, intent, impact, objectivity and time consideration. The words are identified with conflict of interest. (Moynihan, n.d.) If these questions had to be asked there is a potential conflict of interest. But, is there a preponderance of evidence that justifies further investigation? If so what is the appropriate justification? That is for the Board of Directors to decide. We have intervened and defined the act.
To move forward “the quantum of evidence should constitute enough evidence to make it more likely than not that the fact the claim seeks to prove is true” (Farlex, n.d., para. 2). Has there been a breach of conduct? Did the employees contact with the two executives from X TelCo breach the code: Conflict of Interest? The answer to this question will prescribe the appropriate justification, if any.
My role is to intervene, define the act, communicate the concern, discuss the situation with the Ethics Review Board, and offer a recommendation to the Board of Directors based upon the findings of the Ethics Review Board. In this particular matter, we through the group discussion with the Ethics Review Board find that though there is an ethical dilemma present, a potential conflict of interest; there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The employee’s manager has been apprised of the situation.
It has been duly noted that this employee “should be discouraged […] because of the potential to disqualify the company in its attempt to get the tender for supplying X Telco with its services. It is important for any company to compete for contracts without having to unduly influence or present a false image of the company. The image of a company is very important for the potential investor and the company should therefore fairly promote itself as being the firm of choice for IT solutions, supply chain management, customer relationship management, and strategic consulting without using unconventional means. (Academic, 2012, para. 13)
Based on similar questions regarding the situation involving the noncompliance of an employee who has not come forward with information pertaining to a financial interest in Government Allies, Inc. the Ethics Review Board finds that the conflict of interest should be investigated to the company’s guidelines. The potential to cross the line with insider information poses more than just a conflict of interest; it also presents a dilemma that could infringe on the opportunities of ECG. (Moynihan, 2012) Further, this employee may have compromised her “fiduciary duty or other relationship of trust and confidence by virtue of insider trading”, and that is specifically illegal. (Economic., n.d., para. 1). To further complicate the issue the board notes that the spouse may have an unfair opportunity to profit from the company going public. Prior to making a recommendation to the Board of Directors, the Ethics Review Board suggests a thorough investigation into related party disclosure requirements:
Under the ethical standards, a company is required by the federal security laws to disclose any related Party transactions to members of public that wish to invest in an initial public offer in periodic filings, proxy statements and in the footnotes of financial statements. According to the standards, ECG is required to disclose any transactions that are above $60,000 where by an executive office or any other member of the board has material interest in the company. The name of that person should be indicated and the relationship which that individual has with the registrant, also the nature of interest by that person in the specific transaction(s), the exact amount of such transaction, and where possible, the specific amount of said transaction. The ethical standard also requires that the materiality of such interest in the company to be established on the principle of importance of such information to the investor considering the circumstances of the case. The relationship of the participants in the given transaction, the significance of interest to a particular individual having the interest and the amount in question are some of the important considerations in establishing the importance of information to the investors” (Writing Academy, 2012, para.4).
Conclusion: The meeting adjourns. The minutes will reflect the outcome of the two matters that were brought before the Ethics Review Board; both of which indicated that there was a potential conflict of interest; another sought to relieve the tensions of a purported conflict involving insider trading, and a related-party disclosure issue. Having discovered the value of moral analysis, combined with sound business reasoning the board finds that there was adequate intervention; the acts were well defined; and, communicated to the appropriate authorities without consequence to either the company’s position, or the employees standing within the company. We find that the governing structure for the code of conduct [are] evident in the general organizational structure. And, the Ethics Review Board finds that “the code of conduct guidelines [are] aligned and consistent with other organizational policies and procedures. Ongoing educational efforts are necessary. Leaders and managers must provide positive examples by closely adhering to the guidelines in their daily work-related activities. Suspected violations must be [reported to either the Human Resource Dept. or to the Compliance office] and investigated and confirmed violations must be consistently addressed according to established procedures to avoid any semblance of variances in standards” (M.U.S.E. 2012).
What ethical standards might be violated n these two situations and why? How should each one be addressed by leadership and the Ethics Review Committee? Support your points with ethical and business reasoning.
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