Can Ethical Behaviours Be Taught? How?

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Can Ethical Behaviours Be Taught? How?
Chloe Xu, Consultant, Australia

Andrew Fastow, the former CFO of Enron indicated in a recent interview that large US companies are doing the same things he did and he doesn’t think the solution to corporate misconduct will ‘appear through some miraculous piece of legislation’.

Fastow believes the improvement is going to occur through slow cultural change as now ethics is part of the business school curriculum. Students are taught to make decisions that are best for employees, the community, the environment, and other stakeholders, so they develop a different view of the world.
Business schools indeed are making efforts to teach students to carry ethical lessons from their MBA program into the working world and to behave ethically as professionals. Most top schools include ethics courses or build ethics-related segments into classes on global management and leadership. However, it still feels like our business schools aren't producing ethical students.

According to Bloomberg, at least 100 publicly traded companies, including Wal-Mart, GlaxoSmithKline, and Hewlett-Packard, have reported investigations relating to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). So frankly speaking, acting as an ethical manager in the grey areas of business remains a huge challenge.
In the classroom, teachers implore students to resist improprieties or even to blow the whistle when they spot misconducts. But try repeating this admonition to an MBA who has just landed a job after months of searching, to an experienced manager struggling to meet sales target, or to professionals who have to do as they’re told in a hierarchical culture. Guess what will happen?

The teachings of the classroom are no match for the harsh realities of the global workplace. MBA programs should provide ethical lessons that give students on-the-job experience in real situations. Here are three actions all business schools can take to improve ethics education:
  1. PUT MORE EMPHASIS ON DOING THAN TELLING. Give students experience working in role-playing situations that force them to examine their ethics and act on them.
  2. CREATE JOINT CLASSES WITH MBA STUDENTS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES. Foster a first-hand appreciation of the ethical challenges of doing businesses in the global workplace.
  3. ESTABLISH PROGRAMS THAT INVOLVE GLOBAL CORPORATIONS. Give students an opportunity to learn from business executives who have dealt with the issues they will soon face.
⇒ Do you think ethical behaviours can be taught? If so, what should business schools do more?
Seijts, G. ‘Enron Explained’, Ivey Business Journal (March/April 2016).
Himsel, D. (2014) Business Schools Aren’t Producing Ethical Graduates. Accessed: 14 May 2016


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