Business Ethics: A View from the Trenches

by Joseph Badaracco, Allen Webb



This article presents results from a study of how young managers define ethical issues, think about these issues, and resolve them. Several patterns emerge from this study. First, in many cases, young managers received explicit instructions from their middle-manager bosses or felt strong organizational pressures to do things that they believed were sleazy, unethical, or sometimes illegal. Second, corporate ethics programs-codes of conduct, mission statements, hot lines, and so forth-proved to be of little help to these young managers. Third, many of them believed that their companies' executives were out-of-touch on ethical issues, either because they were too busy or because they sought to avoid responsibility. Fourth, the young managers resolved the dilemmas they faced largely on the basis of personal reflection and individual values, not through reliance on corporate credos, company loyalty, the exhortations and examples of senior executives, or philosophical principles or religious reflection. Ironically, however, while the interviewees typically described their experiences as difficult or even traumatic, many believed they had learned important lessons about themselves and the world of work.

California Management Review

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