Arising Out of Different Attitudes to Ethics
Culture is a factor that influences managerial ethics. When
managers are required to take an ethical stand, that stand may be difficult to
explain to a person who does not subscribe to the same ethical viewpoint. When
managers are placed in a situation where they have to act, but are divided on
what action should be taken because of ethical differences, the result can well
be a conflict. If the opposing ethical views stem from differences in culture,
the resulting conflict can lead to divides along cultural lines.
This example is used in some business school courses on
intercultural management. You are a passenger in a car being driven by your
close friend. The friend hits a pedestrian by driving at 35 kilometres per hour
in a zone with a speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour. There are no witnesses.
A lawyer tells you that if you state that your friend had not exceeded the speed
limit, he can escape serious consequences. Would you (a) testify that your
friend was driving at 20 kilometres per hour, or (b) testify that your friend
was driving at 35 kilometres per hour?
It is often found that the responses to this question are
culturally influenced. Students from the same culture tend to react from the
same ethical position. They do not find common ground with students from other
cultures. Including the following add-on conditions can intensify the conflict
that has been artificially generated in class:
You must answer positively either (a) or (b), and cannot say
(a), but..., or (b), but...
Your friend was not driving at 35 kilometres per hour, but
at 40 kilometres per hour: that is, at twice the speed limit.
The pedestrian was also your friend.
The pedestrian will make a complete recovery.
The accident was the pedestrian's fault.
You have also driven above the speed limit.
Your friend has a tendency to drive above the speed
Your friend was driving at 60 kilometres per hour in the 20
kilo-metres per hour zone.
The pedestrian was disabled for life.
The pedestrian was young, attractive, successful and
disabled for life.
Ethical bases and
perspectives on management
According to one perspective on management, the purpose of
an organization is to achieve goals and objectives, using resources efficiently.
Employees receive a reward for their contribution to the organization. The
diametrically opposite perspective is that organizations are above all a
collection of people. The needs and concerns of these people have to be taken
into account. Otherwise, organizational life becomes meaningless. The first
perspective avers that the system is paramount. The latter perspective
emphasizes the importance of relationships.
Given the car example, managers who would have testified for their
friend were supporting the management perspective that emphasizes the importance
of relationships. On the other hand, those managers in favour of telling the
truth supported the management perspective that systems should be paramount. In
a simple, preliminary survey conducted by a business school in 2001, it was
In the United States, 93 per cent claimed that they would
tell the truth.
In Canada 93 per cent claimed that they would tell the
In Australia, 91 per cent would have told the truth.
In the UK 91 per cent would have told the truth.
In Venezuela, 67 per cent claimed that they would testify in
favour of their friend.
The business school that conducted the survey notes that the
United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are cultures that uphold
the management paradigm that systems are paramount. By contrast, Venezuela is a
culture that emphasizes the importance of relationships. When a Venezuelan
manager and a US manager have to work together on a matter that has ethical
ramifications, they may assume opposite positions, resulting in a conflict