This course 'Unethical decision making in organizations : A seminar on the dark side of the force' will teach you how strong organizational contexts push good people towards unethical decisions. You will also learn how to protect yourself and your organization against such forces lurking in the dark.
This course teaches how narrow frames and strong contexts can push good people towards unethical decisions and how they can protect themselves and their organization against ethical blindness.
The goal of this course is to empower the participants to analyze the risks of unethical or illegal behavior that might be triggered by powerful contexts. It draws from various disciplines such as management, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and literature, in order to learn what these disciplines contribute to a better understanding of unethical behavior. The course also analyzes some of the most prominent organizational scandals of the recent decades through the lenses of these disciplines.
Whenever we hear about ethical scandals, we tend to believe that unethical or illegal behaviour in organizations is driven by character deficiencies of individual actors. Put differently, we simply assume that bad things are done by bad people. However, numerous corporate scandals have demonstrated that even people with a high level of integrity can break the rules if they are put into a strong context.
A better understanding of why and under what conditions good people make bad ethical decisions will enable us to better protect individuals as well as their respective organizations against the potentially overwhelming power of the context. It will also enable us to cure societies from problems like corruption.
At the end of the course, the participants are able to:
- Explain the impact of social context on individual decision making using various theories (Management, Sociology, Psychology, and Philosophy)
- Apply these theories to the analysis of some of the most prominent organizational scandals of the recent decades
- Assess ethical risks in their own organizational context
- Design interventions to reduce such risks for themselves and their organization
Week 1- Ethical and unethical decision making
Have you ever asked yourself the following questions ? Why do human beings act in an illegal and unethical way? Why and under what conditions do we become evil? What motivates harm doing and what is the explanatory power of human nature and human culture? What is the evil anyway? And why is this relevant for us in our daily life? The first week will give you an introduction to the historic evolution of our modern understanding of evil, looking at how evil has been discussed in different times and cultural contexts. Furthermore, in this first week, we will discuss how you can deal with situation in which you have to make ethical decisions and how the theories of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant provide us a tool box for such situations.
Graded: Quiz 1
Graded: Ethical dilemma assignment
Week 2- Introduction to unethical decisions in organizations
In this week, we will first reflect upon the wisdom of a famous fairy tale in order to understand the power contexts have on individuals. Subsequently, we will zoom into one of the most famous corporate scandals, the Ford Pinto case which demonstrates the power of context over decisions similar to the fairy tale. Finally, we will present our model of ethical blindness, which not only provides a conceptual framework to better understand these two cases, but also builds the backbone of the whole course.
Week 3- The power of frames: How people construct their reality
In this third week, we will examine how framing can contribute to unethical decision making. After having introduced you to the concept of framing in general, we will use it to interpret the Enron scandal. We will then discuss the recent Lehman Brothers collapse along one particular element of framing – the language we use in organizations. Building on this case, we will finally go deeper into the link between decision making and language and discuss how language influences what we can see and how we decide.
Graded: Quiz Week 3
Week 4- The power of routines
In this week, we will first look at how people and organizations (can) simplify information processing and decision making, namely by using heuristics and by establishing routines. Subsequently, we will examine key driving forces of ethical blindness in organizations and finally demonstrate the risk associated with powerful routines in a case study on innovations in a military context.
Graded: Quiz Week 4
Week 5- The power of strong situations
In this week, we will shift the focus to the environment of the decision maker and we will start by inspecting the immediate context. People are often in situations that have a strong influence on how they think and behave. Most of this influence comes from the presence of other people. The scientific discipline in which such effects are studied is social psychology and so we will look into some classic social psychology experiments.
Week 6 - The power of institutions
In this week, we will start by examining the impact of time on decision making. Subsequently, we will discuss the third contextual layer that we posit in our model of ethical blindness: the institutional context in which organizations are embedded. We will analyze this layer in more detail and discuss the impact of ideology on ethical blindness.
Week 7- The wind of change: how to fight ethical blindness
After having discussed for six weeks the forces that promote ethical blindness, we will now concentrate on defence strategies. This week, we will examine how we can fight against ethical blindness as individuals and as leaders in organizations.
No background expertise is required. The course is open for interested layperson as well as experts who work on related topics, be it as researchers or practitioners (e.g., compliance managers in corporations).
We are in constant relationship with many organizations. Our world is submitted to regular changes as organizations evolve, come and go. Understanding your memberships and attachments to organizations will help you act on your world. You'll learn how to evaluate the influence of organizations around you and how to transform your relationships to reach a stronger coherence.