Ethikos Weekly Editor’s Picks – April 15, 2014



Ethikos Weekly Editor’s Picks

Examining ethics and compliance issues in business since 1987

Editor’s Top Choice:Ethics: There’s an App for that!
Sometimes it’s not enough to let your conscience be your guide. In the throes of a complex ethical dilemma, for example, some practical direction and a smart phone in your pocket might prove handier.

A new app from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics offers users a step-by-step approach toward ethical decision making in the face of any quandary. The Center’s “Ethical Decision Making” app is available through the Apple iTunes app store and can be viewed online at

“It walks people through a series of questions with the facts of the situation and the stakeholders in mind,” explained Miriam Schulman, assistant director of the Center. She said the questions are general, based on five classic ethical approaches that consider if an action is fair and just; if it promotes virtue; if it promotes the common good; if it respects the rights of individuals; and if it produces the most good and the least harm… Read more

Other Featured Picks of the Week

The wallet as ethics enforcer

From Gretchen Morgenson, contributor to The New York Times, “There is a lot we don’t yet know about the disastrous decisions made by General Motors after it became aware of faulty ignition switches in its Chevrolet Cobalts more than 10 years ago.

Who decided — and who agreed — that 90 cents was too much to pay for each switch that would have apparently fixed the problem that has been linked to 13 deaths?

How much did that decision add to the company’s bottom line and contribute to its executives’ compensation over the years? What will the company have to pay in possible regulatory penalties and legal settlements?

Those questions may be answered in the coming months as various investigations move forward. But this much is pretty clear right now: While shareholders of G.M. will shoulder the costs of fines, settlements and the loss of trust arising from the mess, the executives responsible for monitoring internal risks like these are unlikely to be held to account by returning past pay…” Read more

Why great managers are so rareRandall Beck and Jim Harter of Gallup Business Journal write, “Gallup has found that one of the most important decisions companies make is simply whom they name manager. Yet our analytics suggest they usually get it wrong. In fact, Gallup finds that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time.

Bad managers cost businesses billions of dollars each year, and having too many of them can bring down a company. The only defense against this problem is a good offense, because when companies get these decisions wrong, nothing fixes it. Businesses that get it right, however, and hire managers based on talent will thrive and gain a significant competitive advantage.

Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimates. This variation is in turn responsible for severely low worldwide employee engagement. Gallup reported in two large-scale studies in 2012 that only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and a staggeringly low 13% worldwide are engaged. Worse, over the past 12 years, these low numbers have barely budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees worldwide are failing to develop and contribute at work…” Read more

Why telling lies to ourselves leads to unethical choicesAndrew Leigh of Ethical Leadership writes, “When it comes to doing the right thing, many business people suffer from cognitive dissonance. Take for example Novartis the pharmaceutical giant. CEO Joe Jimenez recently stressed the group’s commitment to compliance but he also added, ‘We don’t want to do anything that puts us at a competitive advantage.’

Here is cognitive dissonance in action. The Novartis choice seems to be either pursue compliance or keep up with presumably unethical competitors. There is an inherent conflict that must be resolved.

Based on that quote from the CEO which seems most likely to win out?

Cognitive dissonance (CD) occurs when we hold conflicting beliefs, attitudes or try to pursue behaviours that contradict each other.

For example, we want to slim yet find ourselves eating Crunchy Nut cornflakes at 4 am in the morning.

Psychologists say CD happens to us all occasionally. We deal with the unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings it causes by choosing one of the two incompatible ideas or behaviours.

People go to extraordinary lengths to reduce the inner tension arising from cognitive dissonance. They will do so often without accepting that they might, in fact, be wrong. For instance, they will grab almost any form of relief, rather than admit to being at fault, or mistaken…” Read more

Why men outnumber women attending business schoolsFrom NPR:

New research explores gender disparities in business school enrollment by the different ways men and women appear to process ethical compromise. Are women more ethical than men? Read more

What’s up with big data ethics?From the Jonathan H. King and Neil M. Richards of O’Reilly Media, “If you develop software or manage databases, you’re probably at the point now where the phrase ‘Big Data’ makes you roll your eyes. Yes, it’s hyped quite a lot these days. But, overexposed or not, the Big Data revolution raises a bunch of ethical issues related to privacy, confidentiality, transparency and identity. Who owns all that data that you’re analyzing? Are there limits to what kinds of inferences you can make, or what decisions can be made about people based on those inferences? Perhaps you’ve wondered about this yourself.

We’re obsessed by these questions. We’re a business executive and a law professor who’ve written about this question a lot, but our audience is usually lawyers. But because engineers are the ones who confront these questions on a daily basis, we think it’s essential to talk about these issues in the context of software development.

While there’s nothing particularly new about the analytics conducted in big data, the scale and ease with which it can all be done today changes the ethical framework of data analysis. Developers today can tap into remarkably varied and far-flung data sources. Just a few years ago, this kind of access would have been hard to imagine. The problem is that our ability to reveal patterns and new knowledge from previously unexamined troves of data is moving faster than our current legal and ethical guidelines can manage. We can now do things that were impossible a few years ago, and we’ve driven off the existing ethical and legal maps. If we fail to preserve the values we care about in our new digital society, then our big data capabilities risk abandoning these values for the sake of innovation and expediency…” Read more

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