Ethics are in vogue in the 1990s America. Concerns for ethical behavior pervade almost every aspect of our lives and work. This trend has not been unnoticed by the American business community. In fact, many businesses have taken current ethical concerns and tried to put them into action. In some cases, the action has been out of necessity or self-interest, as in the case of companies hurt by an unethical reputation or companies forced to implement ethics programs because of legal indictments. But some companies are taking a proactive stance toward ethics without external pressure.
As these businesses strive to conduct themselves in a more ethically responsible manner, many questions must be answered: Do businesses need to appoint certain employees whose sole task is to handle ethical concerns, or should the duties just be integrated into existing organizational structures? How should leaders respond to ethical violations within the company? What should businesses do when competitors act unethically? Are ethical concerns best handled within the company, or should outside experts be employed? The questions are unending. As scholars, our responsibility is to provide answers to these questions so that practitioners can act effectively. I conducted this research project to start to answer some of the difficult questions about business ethics.
Most of the research and writing on business ethics has addressed how organizations respond to difficult situations, like ethical misconduct (e.g., Millar & Boileau, 1992) or difficult ethical choices (e.g ., Berleant. 1982). Much less has been written on mundane ethical behavior in companies (Porter, 1990). Yet the mundane is the realm of behavior that represents the majority of what occurs. Difficult ethical dilemmas are inviting to study because they are salient, but they frequently reflect atypical behavior. To understand corporate ethics and make recommendations for growth, we need to study how companies respond to ethical issues in everyday organizational life. My focus, then, was to understand mundane structures for communicating ethics at one company, the Target Corporation. From that, I hoped to draw some preliminary conclusions about ethics at Target, and about organizational ethical structure in general.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jon_hess/11/