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Organizational Integrity, and how it relates to other practices of applied ethics.


The Evolution of Ethics and Policy. When societies were small, clans or tribes, an individual's ethical obligations extended only to members of his or her clan or tribe, but these included obligations to the "natural" world around them, as they understood it. As societies grew, the extent of ethics toward human beings changed. Paradoxically, as obligations to more people increased, obligations to the world as a whole seemingly decreased.

With the decline of tribal culture as human societies became more complex, ethical theory became more important. Where culture and tradition had once guided tribal members, societies sought more universal principles for guidance in dealing with others who were essentially strangers.

Institutions became the communities people turned to for hope, identity, and purpose. These institutions, in turn, struggled to maintain their autonomy as nations formed. The formation of social policy became increasingly a struggle for institutional autonomy.

The challenge for institutions now is to learn how to organize and mobilize their involved stakeholders with hope, identity, and purpose, while simultaneously maintaining a worldwide social fabric. As Peter Drucker wrote recently, doing this will require "the willingness and ability of each of today's institutions to maintain the focus on the narrow and specific functions that gives them the capacity to perform, and yet the willingness and ability to work together and with political authority for the common good."

Our approach to organizational integrity helps organizations organize, develop, and mobilize the human potential of its stakeholders as a community of interdependent parts that includes the world around it. It is an evolutionary approach based upon the twin premises that organizational integrity is tied inextricably to its essential social responsibility to the community and the dynamic nature of that community.

Organizational Integrity. Organizational Integrity is a complex of virtues working together to form a coherent character: a hopeful, identifiable, and purposeful community where trust abounds. Such a community achieves its organizational aspirations in harmony with its environment.

An organization with organizational integrity is a community that has many of the characteristics of a tribe. A recent study of the premier business organizations over the last 150 years demonstrates how significant these characteristics are. The characteristics of truly visionary institutions-those widely admired by their peers and having a long track record of having a significant impact on the world-were:

  • A core ideology (core purpose, values, and vision).
  • An internal drive toward progress (through methods such as continuous self-improvement, purposeful evolution, bold commitments).
  • Well-designed to preserve core and stimulate progress (all key pieces in alignment)
  • Continuity of leadership (home grown leadership).
  • A cult-like culture (an intense sense of loyalty and devotion influencing the behavior of its members to be consistent with its core ideology).

What distinguishes these visionary organizations most from tribes are the three ways they stimulate progress: continuous self-improvement; bold commitments, which the researchers styled BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and purposeful evolution. more

The tribes of our evolutionary past lived in relatively close contact with their environment and with relatively little cooperation and competition with other peoples. Cultures and traditions provided much of the guidance needed to survive and be successful. Stimulating progress before the agricultural revolution had elements of continuous self-improvement and purposeful evolution, but setting audacious goals is probably a device for more complex societies. Dealing with the environment around them was challenging enough.

In a more complex world, organization-wide challenges are required to spur organization-wide progress though the human need for connection with community survives. The need for such goals is less a characteristic of organizing and mobilizing human potential per se than it is a function of our complex and changing environments. Anything less challenging will not capture the attention of the organization as a whole.

The Organization as Community. VisualAn organization must be able to encourage its involved stakeholders to appreciate the broader community in which it would survive and thrive, while simultaneously developing these same stakeholders as a community of inquiry and action. More

The fundamental attributes of a successful  human community are:

  • Dignity of the individual.
  • Connections that further the purpose of the community.
  • Trust abounding among its members and other stakeholders.

The relational values of the organization of integrity that make it work are:

  • Communication.
  • Cooperation.
  • Caring.

Without these, a successful human community is impossible.

Without certain fundamental community values, the fundamental attributes of community-dignity, connection and trust-are impossible. Fundamental to a successful community are:

  • Self-realization.
  • Respect for others.
  • Responsibility for thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Individuals contribute their capabilities and commitment to the organization. If the organization is a community, they choose to be members because they share its core ideology: core purpose, core values, and vision of a desired future.

The organization provides the capacity, culture, and continuity that concentrate these capabilities toward achieving organizational individual and organizational ends, especially learning and growth.

Community Building: The Ethics & Excellence Approach. Our approach to organizational ethics is captured in the figure above as a set of relationships between four components of organizational life:

  • Organizational aspirations.
  • Complex ethical and legal environment.
  • Ethical leadership.
  • Organizational culture.

The figure depicts these components as four overlapping circles. Treating any one component without treating all three of the others is incomplete and misleading.

For example, ethical leadership must have some driving organizational purpose, be consistent with organizational values, and have some vision of the future in mind. We call these the organizational aspirations. More

To be realistic, these aspirations must reflect and involve the environment of the organization. These environments are typically increasingly complex, ever changing, and global. The aspirations and environment raise challenges for the members of the organization to meet on a daily basis.

Leadership is ultimately successful only if it develops, maintains, and employs an organizational culture that embraces organizational aspirations. Otherwise, it is, or will be perceived to be, arbitrary. The challenge for ethical leadership, then, is to develop and support an organizational culture such that the organization and its stakeholders have the capacity and capability to achieve its organizational aspirations. These aspirations, in turn, must be congruent with the organization's environment.

For ethical leadership to be effective, it must be rooted in, or actively developing, the organizational culture. Hence, the essence of effective ethical leadership (which is redundant because ethical leadership is necessarily effective) is its ability to develop or maintain the appropriate organizational culture to survive and thrive in its environment.

It really makes no essential difference whether the organization purports to be rules-based, principles-based, or values-based. Whether it is successful or not depends upon the environment in which it would survive and thrive. As a result, ethical integration-or integrating values and principles into practice-is essentially dealing with either transforming or maintaining the organizational culture.

Organizational Ethics and Applied Ethics. VisualOrganizational ethics is a developing field that recognizes a dynamic in organizational life that requires its own special attention regardless of the purpose of the organization. Organizational ethics is one of the four broad categories of applied and practical ethics.

The figure above depicts the integration of applied ethics as four overlapping circles of ethical theory and practice:

  • Essential Social Responsibility
  • Ethics of Social Purpose
  • Organizational Ethics
  • Environmental Ethics

In an organization, these overlap where awareness, reasoning and action are brought together by leadership. A contribution from each circle is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for an effective ethics system. Ethical leadership is required to identify and integrate those approaches within each circle that are appropriate for the organization.

The Ethics of Social Purpose include the various bodies of values and principles that govern a particular practice. Examples of social purpose ethics include: medical ethics, nursing ethics, banking ethics, legal ethics, biomedical ethics, and accounting ethics. Which bodies of ethics apply to a particular organization depends upon its vision and the tasks required to achieve it.

Within the Ethics of Social Responsibility are three broad categories: government, for-profit, and not-for-profit. Each type of organization has broadly different responsibilities within society, which are of the essence of its nature.

Each has different opportunities and constraints on action.

  • The essence of government is its monopoly on the exercise of coercion and violence within a community: the police, the military, and the courts.
  • The essence of for-profits is meeting the most urgent needs of owners and consumers through free exchange: business and the professions.
  • The essence of not-for-profits is meeting the needs and values of a community without coercion or exchange: charity or philanthropy.

In practice, these functions may merge within any particular organization. For example, the military may take on humanitarian assistance, a business may contribute to the opera society, or an educational institution may contract for consulting services. Nonetheless, complete understanding requires keeping the essence of any organizational entity-and its avowed social purpose-firmly in mind.

Also, there are levels of socials responsibility for each sector. In business, for example, there are at least three levels:

  • Essential Social Responsibility is to be accountable for meeting the most urgent needs of consumers in the most effective and efficient manner with due regard to the external costs.
  • Good Citizen Social Responsibility is to meet the most urgent needs of consumers, as described above, without harming the longer-term interests of the consumers or those otherwise affected, or doing so unethically, which precludes using economic power to gain competitive advantage solely through political means.
  • Supererogatory Social Responsibility is going beyond the requirements of the lower levels, that is, taking actions that are good for the community if taken, but otherwise responsible, if not taken.

Seen through this lens, a business organization that effectively and efficiently meets the most urgent needs of consumers is socially responsible. That is precisely what it is responsible to the community for doing. Contributing to local charities or the Opera Guild to the extent that the organization is unable to effectively and efficiently meet consumer needs would be essentially irresponsible. More

Environmental Ethics is that body of concepts, values, and principles that both defines opportunities for life and places limits on freedom of action in the struggle for existence. All of ethics evolved so far rests upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. These approaches have largely been centered on the human community to the exclusion of the world around it.

Environmental ethics enlarges the boundaries of the relevant community to include soils, water, plants, and animals, or collectively-the land. This enlargement of the community requires more than applying existing theory to a broader community, however.

Enlarging the community-more properly reentering the broader community-requires a rethinking of economics and politics as well. It also requires looking to the broader community for concepts, values, principles and practices to guide our individual and organizational behavior.

The Ethics of Organizational Life is the domain of the structures, systems, practices, procedures, and protocols necessary for a body of people to achieve their shared visions in accordance with its core purpose and values and organizational culture. The thrust of organizational ethics is to increase human energy, knowledge, and trust-and to drive out fear.
Organizational ethics applies to all organizational life, regardless of specific social purpose. As such, it shapes the process and content of dialogue and the context for ethical awareness, reasoning, leadership, and action.

Organizational Integrity as Learning. It has been said that the arrival of the notion of the learning organization marks the progress of management thought and practice from a material resource orientation to a knowledge orientation. In our view, the next step toward organizational integrity is to have the concept of knowledge embrace self-realization.

A law of ecological survival suggests that learning about one's environment must equal or exceed its rate of change. Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Such learning is not just learning so that one might survive, or "adaptive learning." Rather, it must be "generative learning," or learning that expands the person's capacity to create the results and be in the position that he or she truly desires. Organizational survival and flourishing require that an organization develop the human capability for generative learning in order to reduce its vulnerability to change and to enhance its ability to embrace the opportunities offered.

An organization that flourishes is service-driven. It must know and understand the purposes and visions; values and beliefs; goals and objectives; and points of view and expectations of all those who have a stake in its success: customers, suppliers, communities, competitors, and employees and other agents.

It has clearly understood organizational aspirations, which include a purpose beyond profit, and the capacity to support its stakeholders in learning and growth. It surfaces a vision for the organization as a whole and specific challenges for each of its members. This vision and these challenges are shared by its stakeholders.

Organizational Learning and Flow. Organizational learning is a practice that employs human capability, over time, under such conditions, and in such a manner that its members develop the ability to master consciousness itself in order to take control of their own lives. In doing so, work becomes intrinsically valuable. Work becomes sacred and noble.

Applying the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, there are six necessary, but not sufficient conditions for organizational learning:

  • Meaningful activity (a bundle of opportunities for action, or "challenges"), which is goal-directed and bounded by clear rules for action.
  • Skills, knowledge, understanding, and attitudes appropriate to what must be done.
  • Challenges that are well-matched by a person's ability to employ his or her capabilities.
  • A situation that provides the opportunity to become concentrated and involved.
  • Sufficient feedback to permit a clear vision, an insightful view of current reality, and reasonable expectations of the possibilities of action.
  • A sense that influencing the creative process is possible in principle.

If the above conditions are met, one will experience "flow," described by Csikszentmihalyi as:

  • A sense of pleasure.
  • A merging of awareness and action.
  • A sense of control.
  • An altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.
  • A sense of harmony and growth.
  • A sense that the experience is worth doing for its own sake.

Meaningful activity, according to Csikszentmihalyi, has two aspects:

  • Purpose and vision that identify us as a part of a universal order and harmonious growth.
  • Challenges that allow us to express our potential, to learn about our limits, to stretch our being.

As the figure below depicts, if challenges exceed capabilities, the result is anxiety. If capabilities exceed challenges, the result is boredom. But where the conditions are met, the result is a creative tension that spurs excellence, flow, and learning and growth. More

It is the purpose, values and vision of the organization that inspire and define legitimate organizational challenges. Meeting the challenges of serving customers, the governed or beneficiaries, therefore, provides the individual challenges that lead to learning and growth. To meet these challenges, however, requires unprecedented cooperation in inquiry and action. It is the formal structures, systems, practices, and protocols of the organization, together with is organizational culture, that support or interfere with individual capability. Ultimately, it is organizational integrity that leads to the organization as a community of inquiry and action: a community where work is both excellent and intrinsically valuable. Some have thought of such work as sacred.

Mindful that the promise of lifelong employment is gone, there is nonetheless a growing sense that our societies will only survive and flourish if there is a social compact of lifelong learning. It is in many ways a return to the earlier tribal societies in which human beings relied upon each other for mutual support to deal with the world around them.


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