Tag Archives: Ethics

Good Job or Dream Job?

January 21, 2019 by

When thinking about career opportunities, one situation comes up to me frequently—that is, do I quit a job I just accepted if my dream job comes along? Here is a common scenario:

An employee worked for a company for 10 years. Then, it restructured and the employee lost his/her job. That employee networked and found a good job. The firm on-boarded said employee, who started working there for three weeks. This employee likes the work and has begun to implement a big project that will take months to complete. The employee’s skills are needed to successfully complete the project, which is essential to their strategic plan. If the company gets this right they will be able to grow their business over the next three years.

Then, a potential boss at the new employee’s dream job calls with an opportunity at a smaller firm that is doing cutting-edge work. The employee likes the ability to use their skills to innovate with a hard-working, fun-loving team, and then turn ideas over to a group of creatives that will bring the best of them to the market. The company is the kind of firm that is written up in Fast Company. It will make products that allow people in developing cultures to live better lives. The pay is quite a bit less, but the employee can make it work.

Here is the ethical question. Should this employee stay at the job he/she just started? Or is it OK to quit for this dream job? The decision needs to be made quickly.

My answer to this person is: you and your dreams count. However; this person’s strong ethical lens allows this person to not only recognize self-interest, but also see past it. 

Many people want to help make the world a better place and have fun to boot. They are willing to take less money for this. But these values conflict with promise-keeping and the harm created at a good job if an employee leaves after only a few weeks. Hiring and on-boarding a salaried employee is costly, and leaving a team short-handed-—putting their strategic project behind—is perhaps to the long-term detriment of the firm.

Ethically speaking, how long does a promise to hold a job last? One day? Three weeks? Should it be commensurate with the amount of time and energy put forth by the firm?

Anyone in the good job versus dream job situation has to come to grips with the values in conflict, keep the context in mind, and recognize that what they do affects themselves as well as others. Anyone with strong ethical decision-making skills recognizes that the solution might not be an either-or. Wisdom suggests that courageous conversations with all parties will likely result in a solution that honors one’s principles and mitigates harm all the way around.

This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

Ethical Legacy Thinkers and the GDPR

July 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The General Data Protection Regulation is a new European Union and European Economic Area privacy regulation. It has to do with how personal information of EU subjects is processed and applies to all enterprises, even if located outside the EU, that work with the EEA. Among other things, it requires that data collectors and processors receive opt-in consent from the data’s owner; certain data breaches must be reported within 72 hours; users have a right to request a copy of the data collected; and users have a right to have their data erased under specific situations. This last right is also called “the right to be forgotten.”

When the GDPR became enforceable on May 25 it affected me. I was in Austria and I could not get access to several U.S. websites, including the Omaha World Herald. “Come on, what’s the privacy issue with our local paper?” I thought.

Talking to several business leaders when I came back to the U.S., we reflected on how the new regulation affects Omaha businesses. There were two distinct responses.

The first was, “the GDPR is interesting to know about. But our firm doesn’t have clients in the EU so it’s not a regulation that I think too much about.” I’ll call this a short-term, narrow reaction. It doesn’t indicate that the businessperson’s perspective is far, wide, and high. The conversation closed down almost immediately.

What I’ll call ethical legacy thinkers, however, consistently had a different take. Even if their firms don’t currently have EU clients, they exhibited attitudes and perspectives that left me with the thought, “I can see why they have influence and will last a long, long time.”

Ethical legacy thinkers have four attitudes in common, which were apparent in my GDPR conversations with them.

First, they exhibited curiosity, asking questions such as, “What’s the difference between opt-in and opt-out?” and “What is
personal information?”

Second, they expressed concern for long-term business impact, asking“How can we continue to satisfy our customer’s need for privacy?” and “What will the overall cost be?”

Third, these businesspeople showed a sense of the relationship between business and society, asking,“What are the social norms across communities and countries that drive different senses of privacy?” and “What is businesses’ role in maintaining these?”

Fourth, they always bring it back to their values and the core values of their firms. They asked “Why is privacy important to me?,” “How can I make sense of the right to be forgotten?,” and “How can our company use the spirit of this regulation to do what we do best—make good money through excellent customer service and respect for our customers?.”

Ethical legacy thinkers are seers. They pose big-picture questions and seek long-term impact. They know that passing on a strong moral compass and a sense of purpose is meaningful.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

Ethical Governing Boards

May 16, 2018 by

In business, we design our spaces, websites, products, and services. But design also applies to the human element of business. 

When a company scandal hits, we can often trace difficulties and challenges back to its board. That’s why it is important to spend some time designing and maintaining the ethical cultures of governing boards. Here I am referring to the formal structures and informal practices that shape the board’s experience and effectiveness.

The formal aspect of a board culture has to do with the written policies and processes. The No. 1 ethical issue facing boards is conflict of interest. That is why board members are asked to sign conflict of interest statements. Other typical policies include member rights and responsibilities, and a code of ethics. The best governing boards have developed orientation packets for new board members that include these policies and ask them and existing members to read and sign them each year they serve.

The informal aspect of board culture is more elusive. This has to do with the way things are actually done rather than the way the policies state they should be done. Informal culture is driven by individuals rather than the written word. It is messy and human, filled with honorable intentions as well as blindspots. 

One of the best articles about designing the ethical culture of boards is a Harvard Business Review article written by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld titled “What Makes Great Boards Great.” He identifies key ethical aspects for governing board success. Three important ones are:

  1. Create a climate of trust and candor: A climate of trust is built on respect. Board members who respect each other can challenge each other in civil debates, which result in better decisions for the company. CEOs and executive directors can create a climate of trust and candor by distributing materials in a timely fashion, sharing difficult information, and openly asking for feedback.
  2. Foster open dissent: It is the duty of each board member to be willing to question each other’s assumptions and beliefs. The best boards create environments that nurture these exchanges, and, in doing so, help members overcome the conformity bias and groupthink that are deadly to an organization. It is important to note that open dissent is different from disloyalty—the first is healthy and the second is toxic.
  3. Ensure individual accountability: Governing board members are expected to take their roles seriously and follow through responsibly. This can be hard to do, especially when leaders accept offers from too many good causes and end up with too little time. We have to be honest with ourselves about the number of things we are capable of doing well. Board members need to hold each other accountable, which is the best insurance against irresponsibility.

Designing ethical governing board cultures is a challenge worthy of brave hearts and noble leaders. When done well it can make boards great.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This column was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Sexual Harassment Across The Pond

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I was traveling in England when the recent scandal about the President’s Club Charity Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel hit the news. The event was a fundraiser for worthy U.K. organizations. It was for men only and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses who dress in short, tight black dresses with high-heeled shoes. The Financial Times sent two women to work undercover. The article that followed explained that women at the event were groped, sexually harassed, and propositioned.

In the current #metoo climate, we could be witnessing a sea change regarding sex and the treatment of different sexes in business and politics.

We must sort out, in our own minds, the continuum of male-female relationships we consider acceptable in business. But, we cannot allow sexual predators. They should be identified and wrestled from positions of power. We should promote every workplace welcoming the silence breakers who come forward with questions, concerns, and fears about sexuality and the use of power in
the workplace.

Nevertheless, we should allow for the range of the human sexuality continuum that comes with male-female relationships (including friendship, flirting, and love). To partition genders would foster an oppressive workplace culture.

We also need reasonable organizational policies and practices. Ariel Roblin, KETV President and General Manager, was a keynote speaker at the spring Business Ethics Alliance Executive Breakfast. In her discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace, she stated that one of the best things an organization can do is hire male and female executives. This creates the best chance that a rank-and-file employee has someone in power to talk to.

Jane Miller, COO of Gallup, has a podcast about sexual harassment in which she discusses the importance of friendships at work yet the need for clear guard rails in male-female business relationships. Most importantly, Miller says that business leaders need to role-model the moral courage it takes to engage in trusting relationships while being able to walk away as a person, or a firm, when a relationship, though financially viable, is harassing or otherwise destructive. Whichever side of the pond you are on, Roblin and Miller make good human, and business, sense.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

New Business and Marketing Ethics

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Owners of new businesses have myriad ethical problems similar to the problems in mature businesses. The difference is that new business owners don’t have years of experience to help them more easily make sound decisions. But practice and a good process can lead to long term, honorable business growth. Case in point:

Dear Ethics Adviser,

I’m passionate about making life easier for folks. I’ve started a concierge service I sell to businesses that they, in turn, provide to their employees. I’ve been able to get a few accounts, but I’m not growing as fast as I’d like. Part of my problem is not knowing how to price my service. I think I’m overcharging. It’s not as if I can ask my competitors what they charge.

A colleague of mine recommended a strategy. He said to ask a friend who does procurement at a local firm to put out a request for proposals (RFP) for concierge service. The friend wouldn’t really want the service, mind you, but would put out the RPF simply to collect bids from companies and then tell me what they charge. This way, I get the best information about the market and won’t overprice my service. Would you recommend this strategy?

Dear Passionate,

While the strategy is practical and can yield fast results, it is not ethical and should not be used. Ethical decision making requires that you think far, wide, and high about your options.

In this case, when you think far, about consequences for all, you notice that competitors would anticipate that they could get business from their work. They would use valuable time completing your fake RFP that they could instead use on live prospects. You are creating harm. Would you want someone to do this to you?

When you think wide, you recognize all of the duties and obligations you have to different people. A fundamental duty is to try to tell the truth. In this case, you are being deceptive in order to make life easier for yourself. This is wrong.

When you think high, you ask yourself, “What kind of person do I want to be? Would my mom be proud if she knew about my action?” The moms that teach us to be strong and true would not approve of this way of finding pricing information. It’s a short cut, and not noble.

So when you stop to think far, wide, and high, you see that this pricing strategy is wrong.

What can you do instead, Passionate?

Rather than seek a fast solution, get your mind around the fact that business wisdom comes from the school of hard knocks and it can’t be shortchanged. Experiment; try one solution, then another; succeed sometimes; fail others. Engage with business leaders you truly admire to get advice. Keep your values front of mind, and profit has a great chance of following.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Four Steps to Strategic Planning for Startups

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of the keys to starting a new business successfully is having a strategic plan in place. This helps companies determine their direction, plan for the future, identify opportunities, and anticipate issues. It also helps companies keep up with changing client needs and market trends, stay ahead of the competition, unite employees around a shared vision, and ultimately make better business decisions. Although a strategic plan is critical for business success, it can be difficult for new owners to know where to start.

Start with your vision. What do you want your company to be like three to five years from now? Be specific. What will you have achieved? What will your competitive advantage be? What will your culture be? How will people work together? How will your company treat customers? How will people communicate with one another? What markets will you have tapped into? How will people make decisions? What new services will you offer? How will people demonstrate accountability? What will your reputation be? How will other organizations and the surrounding community view your company?

Identify the roadblocks. They could be policies, procedures, attitudes, etc. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes less so. Consider what issues exist for your new company. Limited startup capital? Hiring warm bodies instead of true talent? Unfocused marketing strategy? Outdated technology platforms? Inconsistent pricing model? Squirrel syndrome? Figure out what could get in the way of achieving your vision and write it down.

Identify your strategies. What actions will you take to destroy your roadblocks and achieve your vision? These strategies may be projects, initiatives, events, etc. For example, what will you do to overcome an unfocused marketing strategy and achieve brand recognition? Establish partnerships with recognized brands? Identify competitive differentiators? Generate strategies for each of your roadblocks and be as specific as possible.

Nail down the specifics of implementation. What strategies will you focus on in your first year? What specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound steps need to be taken? Who will do what and when? Divide your first year into quarters, and drill into the specifics of what will take place in each quarter to keep your plan moving forward. As you look at your overall plan, consider whether the timing seems feasible and whether anyone has too much on his or her plate. Prioritize and rearrange as necessary. Next, decide how you will hold yourself and others accountable to the plan. Schedule regular follow-up meetings, and review and revise your plan each year.

Startups face many risks, but some of them can be avoided through proper strategic planning. Regularly review and revise your plan to keep up with a fast-paced, ever-changing world.

Lauren Weivoda, M.A., is a​ ​human​ ​capital​ ​strategist​​ at Solve Consulting LLC.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

The “F” Word

November 22, 2017 by

I’ll never forget the first time I signed into a hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I couldn’t get a room unless I wrote down my father’s name, my weight, and my height.

I thought about protesting out of principle. Like when someone in the United States asks me for my social security number, I say, “Why do you need it? I’m not going to give it to you unless I have a good reason.”

But when I travel out-of-country, I’m less sure of my status and legal protections. So, I kept my mouth shut and wrote, “Klem.” (I provided my weight and height, too, but reporting these here aren’t relevant to this story. Really.) This whole situation railed against my worldview. Primarily because, while standing at the hotel counter in Bangladesh, I was led to believe that if I were a male I wouldn’t be asked for my father’s name and other personal information.

I believe that the global feminist movement is an objection to gendered double-standards. It is grounded in the principle that double-standards are unfair, and that all people should be free to develop their abilities to their fullest and equitably rewarded when they succeed.

However, my understanding of feminism is not universally accepted. In my recent unscientific, informal poll, more respondents would not call themselves feminists than those who would. This is consistent with a national poll done by research firm PerryUndem in the last couple of years, where only 15 percent identify as feminist.

I wonder, would the women who are honored in this edition of B2B Magazine call themselves feminist? Would you? If so, why? If not, why not?

I have found that for some people, the word has a radical connotation. A recent Doonesbury cartoon describes one understanding, from the mouth of a millennial female: “feminism is the belief that women are superior to men” because if it were just about gender equality then there wouldn’t be anything to disagree about, just as there isn’t anything to disagree about when it comes to understanding gravity. And a recent New York Times article describes another radical understanding, namely, “feminism conjures up a caricature of lesbians in motorcycle gear who are very, very angry and don’t like men.”

I guess, if we understand the word these ways, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist either. Though I do like motorcycle gear, I don’t think I’m superior to or dislike men. Maybe the best thing to do in this evolving, crazy, mixed-up world is to forget about the feminist label (I rip labels out of my clothes—why wouldn’t I do that here?). Let’s assume, as the millennials do, that the belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men is obvious. Let’s advance gender equity and reject gendered double-standards when we have the opportunity. Let’s not worry about whether we call ourselves the “F” word or not.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Growing Companies for Life

August 23, 2017 by

Isn’t it interesting to think about company longevity?

I remember hearing that if a small firm can make it seven years then it has a good chance of surviving and prospering. I think this is from the Small Business Administration.

On the other hand, one study from the Santa Fe Institute says that public companies live, on average, only about 10 years.

According to a 2012 report, the average lifespan of a S&P 500 Index company has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years.

What makes some companies endure and others not? A fascinating article in Inc. by Bo Burlingham, “How to Build a Company That Will Be Around in 2115,“ gives us some insights. Sometimes, it has to do with the founder’s intentions.

Burlingham distinguishes between owners who think about building to sell versus building to last. In firms that are built to sell, the mentality is to get investors, grow as fast as possible, make as much money as possible to pay back the investors and make oneself rich, and then get the heck out of Dodge. It’s all about the money and having
an exit-strategy.

In firms that are built to last, owners and investors think about purpose, people, and culture. Yes, money and profitability are important, but it is just one part of the puzzle, not the only driving force. The real point is being passionate about an idea, spending days working with great people, and building a place to work that elevates employees to do their best for their customers. There is a long-term perspective as described by one entrepreneur when asked about an exit strategy, “My exit strategy is to be rolled out of my office on a gurney.“

When companies are built to last, they focus on enduring values. These values are imbued into the fabric of the organization. They become ingrained in all employees, and guide senior and new employees in their everyday actions. The specific values are not surprising. They are ethical values like honesty, integrity, and fair deals. These values are not merely abstract words on a wall but are used during strategy sessions, in team meetings, and when
making decisions.

Enduring values are those things that are most important to us. They cut across time and place. They tie people together, creating a shared purpose. Leaders use them to grow companies for life.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

Ethical Twists and Turns

May 10, 2017 by

It would be intriguing to map the thinking patterns of engineers, architects, and graphic artists. I expect the engineers to be linear thinkers, the graphic artists to be web-based, and the architects to be a little of both.

Of course these differences among professions are gross generalizations. But rather than focus on the differences, let’s look at the similarities, especially in the realm of ethics. I am interested in the question they all must address, namely, “How do I balance my personal values with my career goals and the goals of my firm?” Let’s see how the answer twists and turns as careers play out.

At the beginning of one’s career, a specific ethical problem is maintaining personal values while building credentials. For example, suppose that a young professional—whether an engineer, architect, or graphic designer—eats locally grown, organic foods because they feel that food from big conglomerates includes unnecessary salt, sugar, and fat. Yet, a food giant contacts them to do substantial work. Do they put their personal values aside to build their careers?

I recently asked students in my graduate class in Creighton’s Heider College of Business this question. One was extremely vocal. “I’d take the job. I have student loans that need to get paid off. I also have to get any experience I can. Later on, I can be choosy about the clients with which I work.” Another was just as vehement that, “whether it comes to a job or an investment, there are certain things I will not do and opportunities I will not take. Period.”

As the years go on, careers advance and professionals move up the ladder. A specific ethical problem at this stage is balancing personal values with significant business choices that impact the overall financial success of one’s firm as well as spouses and kids. So suppose that an engineer, architect, or graphic designer personally believes that smoking pot is bad for the individual and society. But they work for a company that will do contracts for anything that is legal. A Colorado marijuana firm contacts them to ask their company to do cannabis cultivation process thermal load calculations (engineer); a floor plan for a production facility (architect); or a website for the company (graphic designer). Do they put their personal values aside to advance the
firm’s profitability?

Some say that professionals can seek guidance about this question by looking to their associations. Professional associations have codes of ethics (like AIGA for graphic designers) that are meant to be useful for addressing the ethical dilemmas relevant in their fields. These codes are important and significant ways of setting standards and expectations of good conduct. I firmly believe in them. However, while codes cover responsibilities to clients, honesty in marketing, and the like, such ethical codes do not typically help professionals address the balance between their personal values and the values of the organizations for which
they work.

Without external guidance, some advanced professionals turn inward and think about going between the horns of the ethical dilemma rather than hanging onto one horn as opposed to the other (as those at the beginning of their careers tend to do). A seasoned professional may use their years of experience to devise a sophisticated way to honor their values while keeping their job. One inclusive solution is to volunteer for, and financially contribute to, a local not-for-profit that provides services to recovering drug addicts. This is akin to people planting trees because, while they object to oil production, they drive cars and want to offset the CO2 emissions.

We have seen that the conflicts between personal, career, and organizational values are real and inescapable. And the ethical line we draw twists and turns as circumstances change. What is the moral of the story? It’s this: As we undertake positions and advance in our fields, the best we can do is to keep our personal values front of mind, and recognize that the twists and turns we take are a natural part of life’s exploration and ethical growth.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Tough as Nails

January 4, 2017 by

Here in Nebraska, many of us have mothers, aunts, or family friends like Lorraine. Lorraine bought a farm with her husband, Norman, in the mid 1960s. Both were third-generation immigrants, steeped in the agrarian ethos of hard work, honesty, and reluctance to interfere in someone else’s life unless absolutely necessary.

The Lorraines of the world are stoics. They get on with life, never complaining about aches and pains, only about the weather. They drive tractors and load pigs for the slaughterhouse. They wear boots for the mud, heavy coats for warmth, and seed caps…just like the men. They run the farms by keeping the books and selling the crops.

The Lorraines of the world are tough as nails.

Ranch women and cowgirls are anomalous to female social norms. In the United States, and across the globe, females are supposed to be feminine (remember, this is a norm, a generalization, and not true in every case).

What does it mean to be feminine? According to Sandra Bem, creator of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, a reliable and validated instrument in most every country, feminine characteristics are those judged to be more desirable for a woman than a man. Femininity includes being affectionate, sensitive to the needs of others, eager to soothe hurt feelings, tender, gentle, yielding, cheerful, and soft-spoken. And femininity also includes (gotta love this one) not using harsh language.

Indeed, the Lorraines of the world are not stereotypically feminine. Instead, they are self-reliant farmwomen—independent, assertive, willing to take risks, aggressive, analytical, self-sufficient, competitive, and ambitious.

But according to social norms across Nebraska and the world, and the BSRI, these are masculine traits. So, ranch women and cowgirls tend to be masculine.

But masculine females don’t only exist on the ranch.

I have had corporate-employees-during-the-day, going-to-school-at-night female students complete the BSRI in my graduate business ethics courses since 1991. And I have used the BSRI across Omaha for many female professional business association workshops. What is true about the Lorraines of the world is true for the female business practitioners I have studied. Overall, they tend to be masculine rather than feminine. Additionally, some are androgynous.

Androgyny, according to the BSRI, is defined as having strong masculine and strong feminine characteristics. So females who are androgynous are both ambitious and gentle, independent and sensitive to the needs of others, assertive and cheerful.

Sounds exhausting to me.

Arduous as it may be, female business practitioners need to practice character traits, skills, and tools that are effective. So what characteristics should we strive toward to be great managers and leaders?

First, a large body of research suggests that females should have at least an average level of femininity. But…and this is an important but….strongly feminine females are perceived to be less effective by both males and females. Too much tenderness, too much yielding, and soft-spoken mannerisms do not convey confidence and an ability to lead during tough times.

However, what if strong femininity is tied to strong masculinity? Would that be effective? Though controversial, another body of research indicates that striving for androgyny is not the answer. Trying to balance or integrate strong femininity and strong masculinity can send mixed messages during negotiations and for most other management and leadership responsibilities. It is anxiety-producing and can lead to self-derogation and depression, which does not result in a perception of effectiveness.

So it looks like masculinity with a moderate level of femininity prevails. Indeed, professors Gary N. Powell and D. Anthony Butterfield have consistently shown across time and for very large samples of subjects that “the general perception of the stereotypic good manager is one of masculinity”—for both males and females. If true, females need to acknowledge and develop their masculine character traits to be seen to be effective.

The tough as nails women have it right. Thanks for being a role model, Lorraine.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B.