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Myths about business ethics

Business ethics in the workplace is about prioritizing moral values for the
workplace and ensuring behaviors are aligned with those values—it’s value
management. Yet, myths abound about business ethics. Some of these myths
arise from general confusion about notion of ethics. Other myths arise from
narrow or simplistic views of ethical dilemmas.

1. Myth: business ethics is more a matter of religion than management

2. Myth: our employees are ethical so we don’t need attention to business
3. Myth: business ethics is a discipline best led by philosophers, academics and
4. Myth: business ethics is superfluous – it only asserts the obvious: “do good!”
5. Myth: business ethics is a matter of the good guys preaching to the bad guys.
6. Myth: business ethics in the new policeperson on the block.
7. Myth: ethics can’t be managed.
8. Myth: business ethics and social responsibility are the same thing.
9. Myth: our organization is in trouble with the law, so we’re ethical.
10. Myth: managing ethics in workplace has little practical relevance.

Principle for business ethics.

1. Business ethics are built on personal ethics.

2. Business ethics are based on fairness.
3. Business ethics require integrity.
4. Business ethics require truth-telling.
5. Business ethics require dependability.
6. Business ethics require a profit.
7. Business ethics are value-based.
8. Business ethics come from the boss.

These responses suggest that the turn to values is not a simple phenomenon.
Individual executives have there own particular reasons for tackling this difficult
and sprawling subject. Even within a single company, the reasons often differ
and tend to change over time. A Company may launch an ethics initiative in the
aftermath for a scandal for purposes of damage control or as part of legal
settlement. Later on, when the initiative is no longer necessary for these
reasons, a new rationale may emerge.

According to Tom Young, the company president in 1992, the ethics program
began as damage control. “ When we went into this program,” he explained, “ we
didn’t anticipated the changes it would bring about ……… Back then, people
would have said, ‘Do you really need an ethics program to be ethical?’ Ethics
was something personal, and you either had it or you didn’t. Now that’s all
changed. People recognized the value.” By 1992, the ethics effort was no longer
legally required, but the program was continued nonetheless. However, by then
it had ceased to be a damage control measure and was justified in terms of its
business benefit: problem avoidance, cost containment, improved constituency
relationships, enhanced work life, and increased competitiveness.
Note: This quote and a full account of the Martin Marietta experience can be
found in Lynn Sharp Paine, “ Martin Marietta: Managing Corporate Ethics [A],”
HBS I case no. 9-393-016 [Boston, Mass Harvard Business School Publishing,

A similar evolution in thinking is reported by Chumpol NaLamlieng, CEO of

Thailand’s Siam cement group. Although Siam Cement’s emphasis on ethics
originated in a business philosophy rather than as a program of damage control,
Chumpol recall the feeling he had as an MBA student – that “ethics was
something to avoid lawsuits and trouble with the public not something you
considered a way of business and selfcoduct. ” Today he says, “ We understand
corporate culture and environment and see that good ethics lead to better

Note: This quote is from Prompilai Khunaphante and Lynn Sharp Paine. “ The
Siam Cement group: Corporate Philosophy [B], “ HBS Case No. 9-398-019
[ Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School publishing, 1997] p.2. For a fuller
account of the company’s philosophy, see also the [A] case: Prompilai
Khunaphante and Lynn Sharp Paine, “ the Siam Cement group: Corporate
Philosophy [A], “ HSB case no. 9-398-018 [ Boston, Mass: Harvard Business
School publishing, 1997].

This chapter has suggested that the ethics boom of recent decades has less to
do with inherent connection between ethics and economic advantage than with
changes in the business environment. As I argue in the next chapter, a deeper
explanation lies in a fundamental changes in what’s expected of leading
companies today.