The Golden Rule

Naturally following from the Parable of the Sadhu is the debate on the importance and role that ethics play in business decisions and in our lives as decision makers. Today as we stand at the threshold of becoming future managers it is absolutely essential that we ponder and reflect over business ethics. The question we increasingly need to ask ourselves is “What is Business Ethics and how is it important?”

Ethics is a set of values and principles that we strongly believe and follow. It is learning what is right or wrong, and then doing the right thing. The concept of business ethics has come to mean various things to various people, but generally it's coming to know what it right or wrong in the workplace and doing what's right -- this is in regard to effects of products/services and in relationships with stakeholders. After a host of scams such as Enron, Worldcom etc, business ethics has returned to the spotlight. Since everyone - be it an investor, customer or public view an organization with suspicion it is very important that the organization portrays an ethical image.

Business ethics has come to be considered a management discipline, especially since the birth of the social responsibility movement in the 1960s. An increasing number of people asserted that because businesses were making a profit from using our country's resources, these businesses owed it to our country to work to improve society. Many researchers, business schools and managers have recognized this broader constituency, and in their planning and operations have replaced the word "stockholder" with "stakeholder," meaning to include employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community.

Prof. ‘Rocky’ Srivastava in his address to the 20th batch in the beginning of this year expressed the faculty’s concern over the ethical standards of the student community when he said, “Copying a research paper today, bank fraud tomorrow”. The fact that the lack of ethical standards is prevalent not only in the student community, but also in the staff and administrative departments is not the bone of contention here. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies (Who will police the police?) is not the question of the day, but rather how we can rise above an imposed culture and have some degree of faith in the impermanence of our own values.

The belief of students that unethical behavior is the norm in the business world is a cause for concern. To a certain extent this belief appears to arise from naiveté on the part of students. In training these future managers, it is important that they be exposed to the complexities of real-world decision-making. This exposure would have dual benefits. First, it would help students realize that the decisions made by people in business are generally at least as ethical as the ones they themselves would reach. Second, it would enable students to sharpen their ethical decision-making skills. With this training, students would be prepared with both the ethical skills and the knowledge they need when entering the business world.

One possible explanation for why some students engage in unethical behavior while others do not is that students have a diverse set of ethical beliefs. Ethics is personal. In the case of academic dishonesty, some students might not believe that plagiarizing a paper is unethical and engage in such behavior, while at the same time believe that it is unethical to cheat on a test and not do so. Another student with the opposite beliefs and actions would believe himself to be acting ethically as well. Yet each student would perceive the other to be acting unethically. In light of this, we are reminded of another address to the 20th batch, late last year where in one of the only faculty-student interaction forums on campus, Prof. A.K. Jain recounted an incident from his days at Ahmedabad as a faculty member. The student community, in an ethics course, questioned the fundamentals of the examination system and asked how they were expected to be trustworthy when the faculty did not trust them and invigilated the examinations in obvious propagation of the Pygmalion effect. In a rare experiment, one that was implemented only after much resistance, the students were left un-invigilated and the examination was conducted without any apparent miscreant behavior in complete silence. Though apparently successful, the students who were proponents of the idea later recounted that it had been extremely difficult to convince the others and self-police. The experiment was never conducted again in any premier Indian B-school to the best of our knowledge.

Top 5 Terminal Values
Alok Freedom, Inner Harmony, Self-respect, True Friendship, An exciting life
Animesh Happiness, Freedom, Social recognition, Family Security, A comfortable life
Anshul Self respect, Salvation, Equality, True Friendship, Social Recognition
Gurpreet Equality, Comfortable life, Social Recognition, Pleasure, A world of beauty
Siddhartha Happiness, Freedom, Pleasure, Self-respect, True Friendship