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 ethics. 3. Myth: business ethics is a discipline best led by philosophers, academics and theologians. 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. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Business ethics are built on personal ethics. Business ethics are based on fairness. Business ethics require integrity. Business ethics require truth-telling. Business ethics require dependability. Business ethics require a profit. Business ethics are value-based. 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, 1992] 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 company.” 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.