September 15, 2008
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).
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):
- 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;
- A more detailed version of the presentation for the seminar, containing additional slides that have not been shown during presentations.
- 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;
- A French version of the preparatory questions;
- 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;
- 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.Laurent Ledoux