This year’s award goes to the fall 2018 MIT SMR article “Building an Ethically Strong Organization” by Catherine Bailey and Amanda Shantz. The article examines why persistent unethical conduct occurs and what managers can do about it, a topic that the judges felt was especially relevant today in the wake of several recent cases of large-scale corporate misconduct, with a significant number of business leaders under fire.
Bailey, a professor of work and employment at King’s Business School at King’s College London, and Shantz, an associate professor in human resource management and organizational behavior at Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin, studied corporate ethical behavior through field research that included surveys, interviews, focus groups, and in-depth case studies of five organizations in the United Kingdom. They found that an organization’s ethical tone was determined by how employees addressed common dilemmas in their everyday work and that doing the right thing was not always the most expedient or profitable approach. Handling dilemmas in the right way, they concluded, requires management to acknowledge ethically ambiguous situations, clarify the trade-offs, model the desired behaviors, create and enforce robust corporate policies and procedures, empower employees to speak up when breaches occur, and embrace a higher purpose that transcends self-interest. “By openly acknowledging and carefully managing murky situations that come up again and again,” the authors write, “organizations become much less susceptible to egregious lapses in judgment — and less likely to incur the associated reputational and financial costs.”
Richard Beckhard, the judges say, would have been greatly disturbed by recent examples of ethical misconduct, and in their view, “he would have been pleased with the authors’ findings that ethical organizations require ethical leadership — not just at the top but at all levels — and that this, in turn, requires a strong vision and a deep commitment to all stakeholders.”
Our panel of judges consisted of the following distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen, professor of the practice Zeynep Ton, and retired senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson.