Laurent Ledoux's blog

Yes, I believe so. Imagination is not only necessary to “put yourself in the shoes of others” and try to understand their ethical viewpoint, which might be (radically) different than yours. It is also necessary to consider different ways to push forward what you see as “ethical” in a particular situation. In the attached documents below, I further investigate these issues, together with some considerations on CSR and its evolution.

For the last 25 years, the question “What are we responsible for?” has been one of my main intellectual concerns. I have read many books about this very broad issue. Of course this question has also guided me throughout my professional life.

I have synthesized the results of my investigations so far in a power point which I have presented several times in French, in Brussels and in Geneva for Philosophy & Management, and in English as a guest speaker for the International MBA of Louvain-La-Neuve on 08/12/07 (together with Luc de Brabandere, who focused on Innovation management and Pascal Chabot, who presented a general introduction to philosophy).

Moral choices, i.e. to choose between right and wrong, can at times be difficult. But to choose between right and right, what can be called “ethical dilemmas”, even more. Ethical dilemmas, it can be argued, are the most common types of decisions a manager is usually confronted with.

In the first part of the presentation, after trying to distinguish ethics from morality, I discuss through different business cases how to try to approach, comprehend, prevent and resolve such dilemmas. What stands out, I believe, is the importance of shrewdness, boldness, courage, determination, tactics and imagination you may need to make “ethical” decisions. Imagination is of course important to put yourself in the situation of those who will have to bear the consequences of your decisions. But, more subtly, imagining as much as possible the potential consequences of your actions may be essential to minimize the risk of being faced with an ethical dilemma in the first place.

This first part also proposes a 12 tests filter (click on the words in green for more details) to accept or reject the possible solutions to an ethical or moral issue. Although such test will never be enough to approach satisfactorily the complexity of most ethical or moral issue, it might prove a useful first guide to reflect upon it (click on the document below to enlarge it).

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While this first part concentrates on managers’ individual decisions, the second part on regulatory systems focuses more that may help to enforce “ethical” decisions and behaviors by organizations or by the managers that act for them. This may help to view the growing importance, at least as a fashion, of Corporate Social Responsibility and “Business ethics” in the business world today. Here again I try to show how “imagination”, in this case more properly termed “regulatory innovation” induces certain behaviors and decisions, whether organizations and managers like it or not. What is particularly interesting here, I believe, is the idea that the state is not anymore in command of this regulatory innovation. Rather very different actors (consumers, ONG, judges, citizens, corporate, media,…), through their actions, concur in an uncoordinated fashion to create a new dynamic that leads to new forms, much less predictable, of regulatory innovation and regulation that can be called “Co-regulation”. It may all seem pretty obvious but, in practice, I’m not sure most politicians and policy-makers, whether at national or European level, have yet this “new” view of the world in mind when they make decision or design their policies. The main aim of EurActiv & BlogActiv (which sponsor this blog) is precisely to improve co-regulation through a better and more transparent dialogue between the members of the community of European actors, particularly before European directives and national laws are “cast in stone”. This presentation is a modest contribution to this noble and worthy aim.

You will find here (some documents still need to be uploaded and the automatic links still need to be made; sorry – coming soon):

  1. The Basic English version of this seminar (08/12/07);

  1. The preparatory questions that were sent to the people who attended the seminar. If possible, start by reading the preparatory questions: the “business cases” to be discussed in the slides are properly introduced there;
  2. A more detailed version of the presentation for the seminar, containing additional slides that have not been shown during presentations.
  3. An earlier French version of the seminar (slightly different because this presentation is a work in progress). Note that the French version contains slides that do not appear in the English version;

  1. A French version of the preparatory questions;
  2. A transcript of the seminar given in French on 14/04/07. If you understand or read French, they might be useful (even for the English version), because without explanations the slides may appear as too abstract and difficult to understand. An audio file of this seminar in French will be available at a later date;
  3. My preparatory notes in French (written as a full length book) for the original seminar I gave in Juan-Les-Pins on 28/09/06 as a guest speaker invited by Sagittarius.

Note that, unfortunately, the animations of the slide in power point get lost on Slideshare. Should you wish to get the original version, just send me an e-mail.

A bibliography is provided at the end of each presentation. Although I’m indebted to many authors, I drew for these presentations particularly on two books:

– “Defining moments: when managers have to choose between ‘right’ and ‘right’” by Joseph Badaracco (Harvard Business School Press, 1997), from which I drew 3 out of the 4 business cases

– “Responsabilités des entreprises et corégulation” by T. Berns, P.F. Docquir, B. Frydman, L. Hennebel & G. Lewkowicz (ed. Bruylant, 2007)

If you have faced or are facing ethical dilemmas at work or in other circumstances, if you have resolved ethical dilemmas, thanks to your “imagination” or not, and if you would like to discuss these dilemmas, please do not hesitate to do so and share them on this blog. For this, you don’t need to reveal the name of the organizations or people concerned. Just try to describe the moral issue or ethical dilemma, possibly using the questions of the 12 filters test or those presented in the powerpoint to discuss the different case studies.

Also if you have particular thoughts about Business Ethics, CSR, co-regulation or related topics, about how “ethics” might be, willingly or unwillingly, rightly or wrongly, instrumentalized today in your organization or in society, please share them with us.

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Comments

  1. Hi.

    some quick thoughts

    – The slides are interesting but when it comes to ethics we all know that business ethics does not weight a lot in a business decision when (euros)² are at stake. It is not specific to banks or any other sector.. let’s say it is just human..or specific to unhappy humans 😉

    – CSR & ethics policies are bla bla… companies mission is to make profit. And CSR & ethics do not generate revenues. What companies may take into account is the different risks and their impact on the bottom line of any unethical or illegal attitude.

    Sorry to be blunt but we don’t have time to loose. Our children are expecting us to stand up.
    Have a nice day
    Alain

  2. Laurent’s reply to Alain Hemelinckx:

    Alain,

    Thanks for your comments.

    – I don’t think I wrote anywhere that ethical problems were limited to the banking sector. So I agree with you that all sector are concerned. But I don’t think either it is specific to “unhappy” humans. Ethologist now see that other animals may face what could be called ethical dilemmas. I also think you might consider yourself happy and be forced by circumstances to face an ethical dilemma. But I guess this is besides your point. The issue I have with your remark is more profound : the way you phrase it makes me feel you establishes as a fact something that you seem to condemn at the same time (“business ethics does not weight a lot in a business decision when euro are at stake”). How do you explain that you (whatever you do in life) are able to condemn this while people in business could not ? You’re right that this happens often but I contest it to be a given for all people involved in business. It is precisely one of the purpose of a course in Business Ethics to demolish the idea that this is a given. There are other ways to run a business than to pursue the short term maximisation of profits. Once you accept this possibility, you can start to think differently. And business ethics can play a role as it does already, with varying degree, for most people involved in business.

    – Indeed CSR & ethics policies are often bla-bla, green-washing… but currently the evolution towards co-regulation (as described by Benoit Frydman & co) also leads to profound changes in the way companies act and interact with their environment. It might not make them more “ethical” but more “socially responsible”, even if it is also in their best interest to do so. Once again, you state as evident something we need contest if we want things to change : “companies mission is to make profit”. Is it really so or is it what we think it is ? I do believe some companies consider their mission to bring something (a product or a service) which is valuable to society, under the constraint of an adequate profit to compensate for the risk they take for providing such product/service.

    So I agree we have no time to loose and we need to stand up but I consider my first task is to make sure we change our vision of the world and the vision most of us still have of the role of companies in society. I’m convinced this is the most important change we need to bring, if we really want things to change.

    Have a nice day.

    Laurent

  3. Hello Laurent

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment.
    Let me take your questions 1 by 1

    “How do you explain that you (whatever you do in life) are able to condemn this while people in business could not ? You’re right that this happens often but I contest it to be a given for all people involved in business. It is precisely one of the purpose of a course in Business Ethics to demolish the idea that this is a given”

    Let me thank you for recognizing that it happens often. Some would argue on this, you didn’t so thank you.
    I’m not condemning people. People earning barely enough to survive do not have the choice to refuse to sell unethical products/services. I’m condemning a system where profit maximisation and lack of imagination is the law. And when injustice is a law, resistance becomes a duty.

    “There are other ways to run a business than to pursue the short term maximisation of profits. Once you accept this possibility, you can start to think differently”.

    I can not agree more on this. But this has nothing to make with social responsibility. This is simply common sense for an entrepreneur. You have an idea, a dream… and the earnings are simply the consequence of the achievement of your dream. The issue with big companies is their inertia, their lack of imagination … ending up by repeating the same operations. The confort zone si really a big hurddle. We need to bring a sense of urgency within companies

    “Once again, you state as evident something we need contest if we want things to change : “companies mission is to make profit”. Is it really so or is it what we think it is ? I do believe some companies consider their mission to bring something (a product or a service) which is valuable to society, under the constraint of an adequate profit to compensate for the risk they take for providing such product/service”.

    “We build boats, good boats…with a profit when we can but always good boats”. I really adore each word of this mantra because it is straightforward and it means that a bright future is possible. And yes, some small companies are focused on doing the right thing. But they are still the exception. So how do we get companies to embrace change ? transparency and collaboration… crowdfunding , co-design of products/services with customers,.. start to listen, then ear what your stakeholders have to say.

    In your sentence the thing that really need to be discussed is “adequate”… where do we draw the line ? We can eat 3 maybe 4 times max a day.. so easy to define a max but quid about the other expenses. On kiva, the microfinance network, we had an interesting debate about defining poverty… it started with the demand of Maria Shriver (kiva is based in San Francisco) to include US loan applications on the network.. from 1 day to another, the average amount of loan reached the bar of 10.000 dollars. Some argued that people on welfare in the us were also eligible for help and it was to the lenders to figure out where they wanted to have they money sent. Others were in favour of excluding US demands as US lenders were now helping their neighbours and no longer people in africa, asia,… among all this arguments, someone sent the definition of poverty written by M Yunus. A list of 10 questions, 10 criteria, 10 indicators to define whether you’re rich or not. …

    “So I agree we have no time to loose and we need to stand up but I consider my first task is to make sure we change our vision of the world and the vision most of us still have of the role of companies in society. I’m convinced this is the most important change we need to bring, if we really want things to change”.
    Changing the vision is indeed a step, getting people to agree on a change is another but let’s not forget that “When you say you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.” Bismarck

    Have a nice day
    Alain
    http://www.greenzen.be/

  4. Dear Alain,

    Thanks for these clarifications. I guess with agree on most issues.

    You’re right to stress that what is “adequate” is not easy to define. And it will vary in function of many parameters (risk of the sector, risk of the specific company,…). But, in any case, I would not be too dogmatic and definitely not directive on this. What is important, is the spirit. The rest should follow.

    And of course, you’re that getting people to agree on a change and effectively changing is hard. But changing the vision is an unavoidable first step.

    So let’s get to work ! We don’t have time to loose and the work of each of us will count.

    Have a nice day.
    Laurent
    http://www.philosophie-management.com

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