Ethics in managing


In organizations, managers compete for information, influence, and resources. The potential for conflicts in selecting the ends as well as the means to the ends is easy to understand, and the question of what criteria should guide ethical behavior becomes acute.

Sam and Bob are highly motivated research scientists who work in the new-product development lab at General Rubber. Sam is by far the most technically competent scientist in the lab, and he has been responsible for several patents that have netted the company nearly $6 million in the past decade. He is quiet, serious, and socially reserved. In contrast, Bob is out-going and demonstrative. While Bob lacks the technical track record Sam has, his work has been solid though unimaginative. Rumor has it that Bob will be moved into an administrative position in the lab in the next few years.

According to the lab policy, a $300,000 fund is available every year for the best new-product development idea proposed by lab scientist in the form of a competitive bid. Accordingly, Sam and Bob both prepare proposals. Each proposal is carefully constructed to detail the benefits to the company and to society if the proposal is accepted, and it is the consensus of other scientists from blind reviews that both proposals are equally meritorious. Both proposals require the entire $ 300,000 to realize any significant mastery of the technical issues involved and minimal need to supervise the work of others.

After submitting his proposal, Sam takes no further action aside from periodically inquiring about the outcome of the bidding process. In contrast, Bob begins to wage what might be termed an open campaign in support of his proposal. After freely admitting his intentions to Sam and others, Bob seizes every opportunity he can to point out the relative advantages of his proposal to individuals who might have some influence over the decision. So effective is this open campaign that considerable informal pressure is placed on those authorized to make the decision on behalf of Bob’s proposal. Bob’s proposal is funded and Sam’s is not.

An ethical of Bob’s action in this case could begin by using the decision tree. The first question in the sequence requires a utilitarian analysis. Clearly, Bob’s interests are better served than Sam’s. However, the nature of the two proposals seems to require one of the two to be disappointed. Moreover, the outcome in terms of broader interests (i.e. company, society) appears not to be suboptimal, since both proposals were judged equivalent in the blind reviews. Consequently, it is appropriate to answer the first question affirmatively. The second question inquires into the rights respected by Bob’s behavior. Here again, the evidence seems persuasive that no one’s right were violated. Sam did not have (did not create) the same opportunity to point out the advantages of his proposal to those at whom Bob directed his lobbying campaign, but Bob’s open campaign involved no deceit, and Sam’s inaction may be taken as implied consent.

It is in light of the third question that bob’s action is most doubtful. Justice would have best been served in this case if there had been a clear situation-relevant difference between the two proposals. The blind reviews found them equivalent, so some other basis for differentiating between the proposals presumably had to be found. Bob’s efforts served to create irrelevant differences between them. If anything, Sam’s superior technical track record would have been a more relevant factor than Bob’s initiative and social skills in determining who should be favored to perform a technical task. Bob’s action in this regards were therefore unjust. Interestingly, had the proposals required supervision of others or the ability to persuade others, Bob’s approach would have been justified.

Managers are facing many situations that require ethical judgment, and often there are no easy answers. The model shows conceptual framework that helps managers analyze and evaluate their decision, as illustrated by the case.