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In these contemporary times, values hold a conspicuous place both in business ethics and in organization theory. However, there persists two considerable bewilderments; viz., firstly, about what these values are and secondly, what role they play in these theories. Therefore, need of the hour is how they can be developed both within the individual and within the organization such that its reach is to society and the state at large. Everybody may have their systems and hierarchies of values, what matters is whether we are talking about something substantial, original and of importance to the present development of the academic discipline of business ethics. This paper endeavours to clarify the concept of values, its role in business organization; value-based approach to decision-making process, conflict resolution and lastly the paper shall propose a set of values that can provide a basis for an organization theory which can be fostered at the personal and organizational level. The purpose of this article is to make aware all the people concerned directly or indirectly about the relationship between decision-making, conflict resolution and human values and to broaden the boundaries of the debate in business organizations to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders leading to success in an era of societal globalization and increase an understanding of its influence beyond the economic sphere and suggest how the business should conduct its multidimensional activities in order to pursue its ethical obligations in a transparent, flexible and holistic manner.
‘Business Ethics and Human Values’ has become the buzz word in business world today. The vitality increases further as relationships among people involved are shaped by ethical practices and mutual trust in this era of globalization and multinational competition. There are various issues related to business ethics and human values in the corporate world. Emphasizing on mutual relationship between the business and the society; business cannot and should not be allowed to conduct itself in a manner that may be detrimental to the overall interest of all aspects of society. All organizations must always strive hard to reach nearer to the Utilitarian principle of greatest good, of the greatest number of people. The purpose of this article is to make aware all the people concerned directly or indirectly about the business ethics and human values and to broaden the boundaries of the debate on business success in an era of societal globalization and increase an understanding of its influence beyond the economic sphere and suggest how the business should conduct its multidimensional activities in order to pursue its social obligations in a transparent manner.
In the contemporary world where the buzz is around liberalization, privatization and globalization coupled with multinational competition, ethical practices in business are gradually emphasizing on relationships with various people involved in a business to be based on the foundations of ethical practices and mutual trust, thereby ethical decision making and ethical conflict resolution assumes significant importance. Every organization has to have some essential outlines and guidelines for their code of conduct for a business to carry out their activities.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy dealing with right and wrong in human behaviour. The concept of ethics comes from the Greek word, “Ethos” that means both an individual’s character and a community’s culture. Generally, it is believed that business ethics involves adhering to legal, professional, regulatory and company standards, keeping promises and commitments and abiding by general principles like truth, fairness, honesty and respect.
Values are the core of ethical foundations both at the personal and professional level. From the personal point of view, it affects one’s social interactions while on the professional front, it percolates through the practices and belief systems of organizations which later spread to the society and nation or maybe globally too. Some of the core common values applicable to the individual and organization are democracy, freedom, solidarity, equal rights, etc. to name a few. Most organizations focus on generating ‘money’ as a value but as they say, money cannot buy everything. Organizations need to have a firm base in generating values to their employees. Values are like the basic structure that supports the building. Any employee of an organization who does not take values into account – both his own and other people’s will be bringing about doom on everyone. Values are a part of any organization’s idiosyncratic proficiencies. This takes it a long way by shaping its long-term feats which may directly or indirectly have an impact on their turnover and yields. The values focused by organizations will be realized, perceived, grasped and comprehended as vital in influencing its stratagems. Different values adopted at different times will reflect different trails laid out for all stakeholders. These values have to be espoused and reflected in visions and missions but its true realization shall take place when its practised not just spoken of. As values are normative, they tell us how we should behave and gives us alternatives in decision making. Values can be both objective and subjective. Its objective when we want it to reflect in the goods and services we offer as adding to human good which can be valued by a large population. It can be subjective when we find values in it that are special to us and are reflective of our psychological make-up and belief systems. Goods and services produced by an organization generate a response from consumers who speak of special values these things bring about which sets them apart from mere predilections and penchants.
Ultimate values are values desired for what they are and are fathomed as aspirations and ends which can be abstract as opposed to being concrete, comprehensive, universal and rather objective. Instrumental values on the other hand, are a means to achieve ultimate values and are typically concrete and relative. Even though one can speak of these two separately in theory, practically they overlap in situations for example, faithfulness is an ultimate value for dependability which in turn is an instrumental value for committedness. Values can also be understood as intrinsic and extrinsic and here too the relation may be overlapping. Each organization decides which value is more important to them than the other. So, they place it in a hierarchy.
Let us now focus on how values can help us in the decision-making process and conflict resolution.
We should know the rationale behind our actions. These intentions and rationale move one to take a decision of choosing one over the other. We need to ask ourselves why this course of action was chosen. Identifying the reason(s) will aid us in knowing that in the absence one of the mentioned factors would have meant that the action would not have been performed. While decisions are taken, sometimes these decision makers are unaware as to why they are made and the followers are not in the knowing of why they were made. It is important for all to know the rationale of the same. This process will reveal the main value that was chosen and promoted over the above.
Consequences of actions is a major factor to be considered while making decisions. Here too, the values chosen under the vision and mission of the organization should be reflected. If the consequence is promoting greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, then the motive becomes utilitarian as proposed by philosopher J S Mill. The extent to which it can help or harm mankind should be considered as prime.
Decision making process may include many ‘others’ for the purpose of deciding both positive and negative influences. This emphasis on counting the good and bad of others should give the organization a chance to expand their values on supplementary human or non-human populace while expanding the moral criterion by which decision will be made. Again here, one can speak of prominence being given to needs and not whims and fancies. A realistic look is the need of the hour. This is also how new values are generated and/or old ones are reinforced. The common traditional approach instructs people to ‘treat others as you want to be treated’, is a common baseline phenomenon in almost all moral codes which is a highlighting factor in decision making process.
While making decisions – both large scale and small scale – having a flexible attitude is healthy. This is with special reference to understanding the value system of all stakeholders. This gives a broader perspective to the issue in question.
In the decision-making process, it is imperative to discuss which values are important and why. Probably while doing so, different opinions will emerge leading to discussions and debates. These need to be faced with while ironing out genuine and non-genuine differences in the conception and importance given to values. A debate such as the one we have cited will probably lead to clarifications of intentions and motives. This process will help in unanimously synergizing strategies purely on the basis of values.
The process of analyzing, defending, discussing, debating and defining, all agreed and embraced values must be repeated at regular intervals for greater emphasis. This becomes even more important when major external or internal changes take place. It is a good idea to provide regular platforms as reminders of these institutionalized values within the organization while holding ethical orientation and/or value education programs.
Conflict resolution requires maturity on the part of the jury and this jury should strictly rely on factual data and accepted norms and values of the organization. Jury cannot rely on instincts or feelings however they can rely on rationality and ethical rules. Values are not feelings or emotions. It is important to have knowledge of other people’s feelings and needs or the effects that our actions have on them. But to solve problems, one must not allow oneself to be swayed away by feelings.
Duty-bound actions should be chosen above the rest. Here, a Kantian deontological perspective should be chosen such that duties should take precedence over desires, likes and dislikes. This attitude helps in conflict resolution such that the focus is on duty over everything else. Things like white lies too should not be tolerated as if the value chosen by the company is ‘truthfulness’ then lies covered in any garb should be rejected outrightly.
While dealing with conflicts based on change, the focus should be on questions about consequences of those changes on the larger value system the organization boasts about. In such cases, the question should be asked in the terms proposed by Kant: what would happen to me if this was a moral rule for everybody all time and in all things? In short, organizations set standards not just for themselves but for all stakeholders and set examples for other organizations from the same industry as well as for all business fraternity. Every action taken to resolve conflicts will reflect on the value system espoused by the organization and will be taken as a benchmark example for the forthcoming issues where conflicts arise similarly.
A little tutorial needs to be given to each party involved in the conflict resolution process on the core values and individual values. From here each one can be helped to made aware of their actions on themselves and on others such that the conflict is resolved amicably yet not hampering the core values of the organization while eliminating all selfish motives and holding onto altruistic values.
Conflict resolution should keep the value of trust intact such that no party feels deceived of the revelations they made while trusting all members of the organization. Trust takes all stakeholders a long way.
Each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. We are all humans and to err is considered human. But to rise from such erring and remaining flexible to change is another value that is important while resolving conflicts. Seeking excuses to justifying errors is not acceptable behaviour. If actions contrary to the adopted values are performed, it is each individual’s responsibility to rectify them as soon as possible so that each one can start again for the highest good of the organization. This is by no means a simple task. Many times, there is a natural resistance of all sorts. These resistances could include the readiness to openly declare and discuss the individual values. Sometimes if one suspects that they do not align with the values of others in question as well as the organizations official value scheme, there is bound to be resistance. However, all should be taken into confidence non-judgmentally and with complete confidentiality. Also, convincing to review the value system should be handled with sensitivity.
After resolution, the learnings of each individual should be noted in an unbiased fashion. Making mistakes and brooding over them is unhealthy. What creates value is to focus on the learning outcomes which are contributory to higher order learning skills which in turn have future implications on quick conflict resolution.
Values are not abstract. They can be seen manifested in people’s actions. Hence having a value based exemplary nature in the organizations can help in the process of conflict resolution. Imagination in this process is imperative. This can create resourceful alternatives for conflict resolution.
When designing a decision-making strategy, it is customary to start with SWOC (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges) analysis. This helps in defining the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, together with the opportunities and threats existing in the environment. Based on this analysis, the organization will make a decision on what to do. It will also help them to answer few more connected questions such as why, how and for what purpose is the action being taken. Participation is not something to be taken lightly but should be an open discussion of real problems and real actions. Strategies can then be designed bonding the mission and the distinctive value competences with which the environment’s challenges can be effectively addressed.
Here one should note that decision-making and conflict resolution overlap. Resolving a conflict involves making decisions and making a decision may be resolution of conflicts. It can be separated in theory but not in praxis. Hence what is applicable to one may also be applicable to the other. There are some laws of business ethics that I feel are value rich and should be adopted by all organizations to avoid conflicts and to arrive at healthy resolutions and decision-making processes. These are:
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