Tools of Ethics

Consciously or unconsciously, we engage in some kind of ethical reasoning every day of our lives. To improve our ethical reasoning, we must analyze it explicitly and practice it daily. The key terms of the ethical language are values, rights, duties, rules, and relationships. Let’s consider each in turn.


When you value something, you want it or you want it to happen. Values are relatively permanent desires that seem to be good in themselves like peace or goodwill.

Values are the answers to the why questions. Why, for example, are you reading this book? You might reply that you want to learn about management. Why is that important? To be a better manager. Why do you want that? To be promoted and make more money sooner. Why do you need more money? To spend it on a VCR. Such questions go on and on, until you reach the point where you no longer want something for the sake of something else. At this point, you have arrived at a value. Corporations also have values such as size, profitability, or making a quality product.

Recently AT&T CEO articulated a set of values called “Our Common Bond” intended to serve as the anchors or the future The telecommunications industry is changing so fast that it is difficult to make decisions on common management principles so he turned to values for an answer. Our Common Bond lists respect for the individual, teamwork, dedication to customers, innovation and integrity as the ground rules for AT&T and its subsidiaries.

Two important values at L.L. Bean are providing top quality customer service and employees development. Over the years, employees of this mail-order and retail dealer in Freeport, Maine have gone above and beyond to carry out Bean’s tradition of quality service sustaining the company’s reputation for quality. For example, when a customer in New York failed to receive his canoe in time for weekend trip, an L.L Bean sales representative drove the canoe to the customer. That was not the end of it, however; the incident made company managers questions why the canoe did not arrive on time. They discovered that although company employees were committed to customer services they were not empowered to make the type of decisions necessary to prevent such occurrences, nor did they have the necessary knowledge of processes elsewhere in the company that affect such situations.

To correct the system, L.L. Bean employed total quality management approach. However, rather than focusing in process improvements as most companies do when starting in this type of change, L.L. Bean centered its efforts on employee development. Bean’s definition of total quality reflects its valuing of employees: Total quality involves managing an enterprise to maximize customer satisfaction in the most efficient and effective way possible by totally involving people in improving the way it is done. The total quality approach also involved challenging all the company’s assumptions and redesigning its processes. The change has been very successful, leading to higher profits and increased customer satisfaction.

Rights and Duties:

A right is a claim that entitles a person the room in which to take action. In more formal terms, one might call this room a person’s sphere of autonomy or more simply, his or her freedom. Rights are rarely absolute; most people would agree that the scope of individual rights is limited by the rights of others. Ordinarily, you have a right to speak your mind freely until you make slanderous statements about another person.

Moreover, rights are correlated with duties. Whenever someone has a right, someone else has a duty to respect it. A duty is an obligation to take specific steps to pay taxes, for example and to obey the law in other respects.

Moral Rules:

Moral rules guide us through situations where competing interests collide. You might think of moral rules as tie breakers guidelines that can resolve disagreements. Moral rules, which are rules for behavior, often become internalized as values.

Human Relationships:

Every human being is connected to others in a web of relationships. These relationships exist because we need one another for mutual support and to accomplish our goals. From a small child’s relationship with parents to a manager’s relationship with an employee, relationships are a pervasive aspect of moral life. We constantly decide how to maintain and nurture them. These decisions reflect our values and our concern for ethics. So, when we say that management is about relationships, we are claiming that it has a large ethical component.