Ethics are of critical importance to organizations, as they can potentially have enormous impacts on their communities.
Outline the various ethical philosophies over time, and integrate them into a meaningful understanding of ethical behavior
Organizational leaders must be aware of the consequences of certain decisions and organizational trajectories, and ensure alignment with societal interests and ethical behavior.
Utilitarianism is the ethical philosophy that pursues the greatest outcome for the largest number of people. This is a consequence-oriented point of view.
Deontologicalethics focus on the position that the morality of an action is based on its adherence to rules or obligations set by society or held intrinsically (as opposed to the consequences of that act).
Virtuousness is the pursuit of a given behavior for the simple sake of that behavior (i.e. the means, not the ends), and the desire for perfect execution of that behavior.
Finally, communitarian ethics focus on the expectations and needs of a preferred community. This means identifying the duties assigned by the group, and carrying out tasks for their benefit.
Relating to the the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on the action's adherence to rules or obligations rather than either the inherent goodness or the consequences of those actions.
Relating to the ethical point of view that the greatest good for the greatest number of people is ideal.
Ethics are a central concern for businesses, organizations, and individuals alike. Behaving in a way that adds value without inappropriate conduct or negative consequences for any other group or individual, organizational leaders in particular must be completely aware of the consequences of certain decisions and organizational trajectories, and ensure alignment with societal interests.
There are many examples of ethical mistakes in which organizational decision makers pursued interests that benefited them at the cost of society. The 2008 economic collapse saw a great deal of poor decision-making on behalf of the banks. The Enron scandal is another example of individuals choosing personal rewards at the cost of society at large. These types of situations are extremes, but they highlight just how serious the consequences can be when ethics are ignored.
How to Frame Issues Ethically
One complexity of building a strong ethical foundation into an organization is the simple fact that there are many schools of thought. Ethics are in some ways a branch of philosophy, in which the idealized perspective is both malleable and uncertain. However, some powerful examples of ethical frames are available to us from many different time periods. There are four schools of thought that are useful for framing future strategic decisions to ensure ethical behavior. These perspectives are utilitarian, deontological, virtuous, and communitarian approaches.
Perhaps the cleanest and simplest perspective on ethical behavior, a utilitarian will always ask one question: what is the ideal outcome for the highest number of people? This approach simply considers the impact of ones actions on others, and tries to ensure that the best outcome for the most people is what ultimately occurs.
While this outcome-based reasoning is quite useful, it has one fatal flaw. The definition of 'best' when discussing what's best for the most people can become quite subjective. As a result, when utilizing this ethical reasoning to make decisions, it is important to set terms and create definitions that enable the reasoning to have applicable and measurable logic. Simply put, one must ensure they define their terms, and what they mean by good, when pursuing this ethical line of reasoning.
Popularized by Emmanual Kant, the central term in this point of view is duty. Kant disliked the concept of utilitarianism for one simple reason: the ends should not justify the means. Indeed, Kant's ethical argument is that moral maxims of respect for one another and appropriate behavior serve as a groundwork for all ethical reasoning. It is these core concepts which can never be sacrificed for the greater good.
Popularized by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, this point of view assumes that virtue is a central benchmark for all ethical behavior. What is meant by virtue in this context is a desire to perform a certain act as a result of deep contemplation on the value of that act. To make this act virtuous is to perform it with excellence. As a result, we have a deep contemplation of the value of a certain behavior or decisions, which we apply great practice and consideration. Following this, we can approach the perfect execution of that act or behavior through our rational minds.
In this school of ethical thought, it is similarly important to discard the justification of a means by the ends of that means. Which is to say this an act should be performed because it is desirable in and of itself, and not for the sake of something else. Each behavior is therefore considered carefully, rationally and virtuously to ensure it is valid, beneficial, and valuable.
Finally we have communitarian ethics. In this perspective, the individual decision-maker should ask about the duties owed to the communities in which they participate. This is a relatively simple frame of reference, where the individual decision maker will recognize the expectations and consequences of a given decision relative to the needs, demands and impacts of a certain preferred community.
Ethical behavior requires careful consideration of all frames, and a thorough understanding of the impacts of a given decision.