The primary goal of corporations is to create money for its shareholders. Executives and managers are faced with the responsibility of making sure that the businesses with which they are associated remain profitable for the sake of its stakeholders. Solely profit-driven organizations create the kind of environment that encourages people to leave their morals at the door for the sake of the almighty dollar. If this is the case, should we then abandon decades of corporate and capitalistic growth?
Not all unethical behaviour stems from profit and financial success. Sometimes, success and corporate image motivates an entire organization to behave unethically. Take for example the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. This event exposed NASA’s success-driven culture and demonstrated how the company’s narrow focus on the launch impeded its abilities to identify the signs pointing to an impending disaster that would ultimately kill several astronauts. The signs were there: internal memos were written by several employees with their warnings, which should have alerted the executives. Success was defined as ‘meeting the deadline’, which was, in this case, the launch date. Having a narrow definition of success will create an environment where employees and executives alike will refuse to see mistakes and focus only on the goal at hand.
No organization will ever be perfect and no structure will ever stop unethical behaviour in the workplace, but all organizations must make every effort to be ethical; otherwise, corporate responsibility will not be achieved. Setting up specific guidelines in the detection and proper investigation of alleged unethical behaviour must be instilled in every stakeholder. Having a Chief Ethics Officer to champion the guidelines and maintain their policing and implementation should also be considered. All employees of the corporation—from the CEO to the mail clerk—must be made aware of their moral responsibilities to themselves, the community, and the corporation. Furthermore, punishment must not be prejudicial to ‘rank and file’ positions within the company: everybody is liable, and everybody has the responsibility to uphold the moral culture. Likewise, having checks and balances within the organization is important because it allows major decisions to be monitored, reflected on, and analyzed for accuracy and moral adherence to the specified code. Finally, it is essential that moral culture be reflected not only in writing but also in actions. This is very important in the lasting faithfulness of every stakeholder within the organization. Leaders must exemplify moral conduct above anything else because their examples can directly influence the actions of their followers. Much like the saying “the buck stops here”, CEOs and presidents of organizations hold in their hands the ethical performance of their companies.
Impeccable examples are provided from the top down for all employees to follow suit and contribute to a successful business founded upon the strongest ethics.