Ethics

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Putting an End to Leaders’ Self-Serving Behavior

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Business leaders are often selfish. They honestly think they are entitled to more resources than anyone else, and that they have earned the right to take more. Their self-serving behavior is usually enabled by their organizations. But three strategies can help: Organizations can choose leaders who tilt away from self-serving frameworks; create systems that reinforce fairer evaluations; and recognize the added complexities that arise on the global stage.

Which Rules Are Worth Breaking?

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Creating innovative products and services that disrupt the status quo requires creativity, and creativity involves thinking differently about constraints. But too much of a “the rules don’t apply to us” attitude can lead to ethical crises. That’s what’s happened at Uber, where a string of controversies led to a mass exodus of executives, including the company’s president and CEO. Organizations intent on innovating need to understand ahead of time the consequences of breaking certain rules.

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Ethics Should Precede Action in Machine Intelligence

As analytics and big data continue to be integrated into organizational ways and means from the C-suite to the front lines, authors Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern believe that a new kind of company will emerge. They call it the “mathematical corporation” — a mashup of technology and human ingenuity in which machines delve into every aspect of a business in previously impossible ways.

Balance Efficiency With Transparency in Analytics-Driven Business

Algorithms are affecting many aspects of daily life, but most people have no clarity as to how they work — even in the companies that create and use them. But individuals and organizations need to carefully consider what this lack of transparency means when it comes to fairness and honesty in commercial interactions and decide where to draw the line on data ethics.

Romantic and Rational Approaches to Artificial Intelligence

Organizations have made rapid gains in their ability to generate big data sets, but the ability of managers and executives to develop insights from that data has lagged behind. Data processing by artificial intelligence offers the prospect of speeding things up — but it also risks expanding the gap, as managers lack understanding of how AI reaches its data-based conclusions.

Achieving Trust Through Data Ethics

Eight out of 10 executives surveyed say that as the business value of data grows, the risks their companies face from improper handling of data increase exponentially. While digital advancements enable new opportunities for businesses to compete and thrive, they also create increased exposure to systemic risks. Success in the digital age will require a new kind of ethical review around how companies gather and use data.

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The Ethics of Wielding an Analytical Hammer

With analytics as a hammer, so many questions can start to look like nails. It is difficult for organizations to know what to do. But the “should” in “What should we do?” goes beyond just selecting what to hammer on for maximum insight. Companies need to pay attention to the ways in which the possibilities that analytical abilities create involve responsibilities as well.

Secrets in the Age of Data

Secrets may be an unexpected casualty of increasing analytical prowess — just ask Volkswagen. Companies often have information they’d rather keep under wraps; sometimes it’s innocuous, like the timing of a new product launch, but other times it’s embarrassing details about unethical or even criminal behavior. But as data analytics becomes more broadly available, the chances of keeping secrets out of public view grow slimmer every day. Will this result in a change in how companies do business?

The 2015 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

This year’s winning article is “Combining Purpose With Profits,” by Julian Birkinshaw, Nicolai J. Foss, and Siegwart Lindenberg. The authors examine a familiar question for managers: How can the tension between purpose and profits be best managed? The article explores the kinds of structures companies need to pursue “pro-social” goals. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.

Why Corporate Social Responsibility Isn’t a Piece of Cake

Corporate Social Responsibility “is fraught with contradictions, subject to political challenges and demands deep commitment,” argue José Carlos Marques and Henry Mintzberg. Responsible corporate behavior, they write, isn’t simply “doing well by doing good.” Instead, six changes need to be considered, within and beyond our private institutions. These changes include fostering ethical judgment within the enterprise, rethinking compensation and acknowledging the benefits of regulation.

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Is Your Company Addicted to Value Extraction?

Is your company focused on creating value — or on siphoning it off from others? Capturing value from other stakeholders by manipulating the competitive market process to the company’s advantage exposes a company to reputational or legal risks. It also can undermine corporate values. Value extraction is typically easier than developing a competitive advantage through ongoing value creation. Companies can get hooked on the practice, to the detriment of real value creation.

Photo by Bengt Wanselius

Combining Purpose With Profits

It’s an old idea: If you want to build a company that truly motivates its employees, it has to have a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose that transcends making money can motivate employees. But to sustain both a sense of purpose and a solid level of profitability over time, companies need to pay attention to several fundamental organizing principles, including the need for support systems that reinforce goals.

Image courtesy of Flickr user abplanalp_photography.

When Should You Fire Customers?

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Many customers are simply not profitable. Letting them go is one option, but so is trying to train them out of expensive behavior. Options suggested by Jiwoong Shin and K. Sudhir, both of Yale School of Management, include reducing services to unprofitable customers and educating them to use less costly service channels. “We recognize the mix of concerns, both ethical and practical, that swirl around firing customers,” write Shin and Sudhir. “We advocate firing customers only as a last resort.”

Does Your Company Seem Socially Irresponsible?

Public perceptions of corporate irresponsibility are shaped in subjective, yet predictable, ways. “People like tidy stories with a clear villain,” write Nathan T. Washburn of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Donald Lange of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “We lose interest when there are too many factors, extra complexity or too much ambiguity.” That means that powerful negative images can be hard to respond to.

Why Making Money Is Not Enough

The authors, who include Ratan Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group, argue that that “it is possible to build and lead companies that retain a deeper purpose.” Tata calls for companies to launch “corporate lifeboats” — such as new business experiments in next-generation clean technologies and serious business initiatives in the underserved space at the “base of the pyramid” — to transform their operations for sustainability.

Showing 1-20 of 52