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the ethics of decision-making values, beliefs, and perceptions of ethics and shareholder value

by William E Hamilton@Iman Fiqrie, CPLP and PhD. Candidate Organizational Development and Leadership, Training and eLearning

Virtue, ethics, and morals matter

It is hard to think in terms of ethics if one has not really thought about one’s own personal value system, what they stand for, and who they want to be (the roles one should take) as the foundation that supports one’s professional, social, and world view, roles and value systems. Some say we pride ourselves on being the greatest generation, both technologically and intellectually, it is true we have more than any other generation, but as far as the greatest human beings ever, the empirical evidence suggests we have a long way to go.

Ethical Decision-Making: What Constitutes Ethical Decision-Making Differentiated from Other More Pragmatic Forms of Decision-Making

Human beings, in the name of businesses, progress, and “for the greater good” -- have done some of the most immoral and unethical things to other human beings that one can imagine; too long to recount here. There are many potential decision points before a situation raises to the level of immoral or unethical. Ethics (one’s values, norms, and beliefs), however, isn’t entirely the problem (i.e., the theory of ethics), the expectation that just a law, an oath or a pledge will fix one’s ethics and one doesn’t have to first reflect upon one’s own values, integrity, make decisions, and then act responsibly is a problem. No one else is going to do it for you (e.g., the corporation) and if they do, is it in conflict with your personal system? “It is very important to know who you are. To make decisions. To show who you are (Malala Yousafzai)” (Hartman et al., 2018, p. 37).

So, when one says ethical decision-making (EDM), maybe accountable EDM (AEDM) is a better word (Hartman et al., 2018). Business decisions can be seen as a process of "responsible decision making" (Hartman et al., 2018, p. 5), some would argue responsible to whom-- the business or all its stakeholders (e.g., internal and external to include society). This idea of being responsible suggests an evaluation system, ethics. The process of evaluation is one of ethical decision making that is in-line with both one’s personal and professional value systems and roles (possibly society). By behaving in a manner aligned with one’s personal and professional roles in consideration of the stakeholders shows accountability. This constitutes AEDM, a model or system that is a responsible and accountable way of thinking and deliberating that contributes to “… human well-being and a life well-lived...” (Hartman et al., 2018, p. 17). EDM is one that is risk assessed, i.e., considers the likelihood of challenges in court, losing, costs, benefits, and ethical implications as opposed to a pragmatic decision-making (PDM) system based on the law itself. As much of the law is civil law (much respect to criminal law as well) and may only trigger after being pushed to some limit on the advice of corporate lawyers-- so, only considering the law doesn’t necessarily protect one from unethical behaviour or the court.

Personal values and integrity matter

Advocating for Ethical Decision-Making at the Workplace, Business or Organization: Considering the Potential Impact of an Ethical Decision-Making Model and Highly-Aware and Ethically Conscious Leadership Team

Trying to advocate for ethics and a decision-making model for a potential organization in the news these days having issues is tricky. On the one hand, the theory of AEDM is clear, on the other hand-- not everyone or business understands or cares for the mechanics of EDM. So, many other factors like personal, professional, and country values, culture, dimensions, and beliefs are key factors and potential barriers to successful advocation of any position on ethics. If one takes the author’s brother for example, he sits on a few boards and there have been more than a few conversations and discussions about ethics and shareholder values vice maximizing profits. His view is that as a shareholder, if one tries to push ethics or values (as opposed to profits) in the business-- as a shareholder himself, he would sue because one’s duty as a shareholder is to maximize shareholder wealth and profits. Even making the empirical case didn’t work as my brother said he knew better as a board member than I, how many boards do you sit on was his question? This is echoed in Stout (2012), “… the editor of Business Ethics states that ‘courts continue to insist that maximizing returns to shareholders is the sole aim of the corporation. And directors who fail to do so can be sued’...” (Chapter 2). The title of the book is the Shareholder Value Myth and breaks down or debunks this myth with empirical evidence. Even so, my brother (as leader) wasn’t hearing it.

Conclusion

It seems we have lost something more valuable in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness— the ability to live life well, inspire others to be and do so better for other human beings as we would ourselves, to value life (other than ourselves), to put others first, for the good of a life well lived and worth living. If one has to ask if one “has it” or must do it—then you don’t. The answer quite simply is, a life well lived must concede that humanity and society wins at all costs or what’s the point of living it? It must be for “… well-being… happiness, health, dignity, integrity, freedom, respect—of the people involved” (Hartman et al., 2018, p. 41).

References

Hartman, L. P., DesJardins, J., & MacDonald, C. (2018). Business ethics: Decision making for personal integrity and social responsibility (4th ed.). Retrieved from RedShelf Books

Stout, L. A. (2012). The shareholder value myth. Retrieved from O'Reilly Safari Books Online

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William Hamilton
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