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Organizational Integrity, and how values, principles, and practices are integrated throughout the organization 19 Jan 2


Ethics: Teaching vs. Dialogue. An organization is essentially how and what it communicates. Communication patterns, especially those with its environment, describe the organization far better than organizational charts. Organizational ethics surfaces fundamental values and beliefs, and inspires and legitimizes dialogue into their implications in daily life.

It is doubtful, of course, that anyone can teach adults ethics. But the ethics that good upbringing begins can be developed through dialogue. The ethics that are incompatible with the purpose, values, and vision of the organization can be influenced or constrained through dialogue as well, though organizational alignment requires that the organization be prepared to purge its ranks of those unduly out of sync. In a supportive context, dialogue involving practical experience, including case study, contributes to

There is no simple universal formula for solving ethical problems. We have to choose from our codes of conduct whichever rules are appropriate to the case in hand; the outcome of those choices makes us who we are.

Sir Adrian Cadbury

the reflection and deeper understanding of relationships and practices that lead to individual and organizational self-realization.

What does Organizational Integrity look like? The paradigm for an organization with organizational integrity, in our view, is best exemplified in the developing notion of the "learning organization."

A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and that develops, adapts and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself. A learning organization doesn't learn in order to achieve its mission. Learning and growth is its mission.

At the heart of a learning organization lies the belief that enormous human potential lies locked, undeveloped in our organizations. Central to this belief is the conviction that when all members of an organization fully develop and exercise their essential human capacities, the resulting congruence between personal and organizational visions, goals and objectives will release this potential.

Peter M. Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of a Learning Organization, contains one of the best descriptions we have found of a learning organization. According to Senge, a learning organization is one that is structured in a manner consistent with the essence(s) of human nature. Senge is concerned with what he calls the "higher" human essences, and believes that learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human.

Moreover, real learning is not just limited to understanding what is necessary to survive ("adaptive learning"), but also includes what he calls "generative learning." Generative learning expands a human being's capacity to create the results he or she truly desires.

Though learning may be a fundamental human essence, the process of learning is quite complex. Learning itself includes three different activities: thinking, communicating and cooperating. When our capacities to think, communicate and cooperate are enhanced, so is our ability to learn. Thus, a learning organization is one which fosters and enhances these activities for its members and members of the community in which it exists.

Standards, Infrastructure, and Alignment. Once the organization decides that it intends to be a learning organization, it is necessary that it design and develop itself to learn. Emerging global standards and best practices contribute to this design and development, but there is no one or two programs that will serve all or even most organizations.

We use the attached "Model" to guide design and development. It is composed of 10 questions in the first column followed by the answers provided by the US Sentencing Commission and emerging global standards and best practices.

Essential Human Capacities. As far back as Aristotle, philosophers have described what differentiates humans from animals in such a way that includes these same three learning capacities: the ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to communicate ideas and concepts, and the ability to cooperate with other human beings in the process of inquiry and action. We call these "the Essential C3 Capacities." To define a learning organization, therefore, we must take these capacities into account.

Let us then make two assumptions:

1.  That generative learning (which includes thinking, communicating, and cooperating) is part of the essence of our humanity.

2.  That to the extent those capacities are not fully developed, maintained and applied, human potential is wasted.

It follows then that for any organization to excel in the future and not waste human potential, it must apply all the essential capacities of those involved in its judgment processes and in the decisions that result. This is the case, whether an organization is developing visions and missions, goals and objectives, strategies and structures, or policies and action plans.

Learning versus Traditional Organizations. An ideal learning organization will therefore be composed of persons who think critically and creatively, considering all the factors involved in understanding a matter, especially the points of view of those affected. They will communicate ideas and concepts among themselves effectively, as well as describe data and desires. They will also be adept at cooperating with others in both inquiry and action by first establishing trust.

For example, Senge quotes Bill O'Brien of Hanover Insurance in describing such a person in a managerial role:

"He or she feels comfortable with responsibility, digests complex ideas, weighs different positions, and develops solid reasoning behind choices. Other people listen with care to what this person says. The person has larger aspirations for family, company, industry and

The learning organization is not only concerned with the Essential Human Capacities of its members (owners, managers, supervisors, and employees). It also wishes to address human potential within the communities in which it would flourish (customers, suppliers, neighbors, government and future generations). Traditional, hierarchical organizations are designed to provide for basic human needs: food, shelter, and belonging. By contrast, learning organizations are designed to address higher-order needs: self-respect and self-actualization.

Traditional organizations change by reacting to events. Their "reference points" are external and often based in the past or on the competition. They are often change-averse. Learning organizations, by contrast, are vision-led and creative. Their reference points are internal and anchored in the future they intend to create. They embrace change rather than merely react to it.

Traditional organizations sort people into "thinkers" and "doers." Essentially, the doers are prohibited from thinking. Learning organizations truly engage everyone. Their fundamental challenge is seen as tapping the intellectual capacity of people at all levels, both as individuals and as groups.

What Are The Benefits? One benefit of becoming a learning organization is that we release the enormous potential of our members. More fundamentally, the framework described above provides a foundation, a set of guiding principles in relation to which other theories (such as the pursuit of excellence, management by objectives, employee empowerment, and principle-centered leadership) can be applied.

Each of these theories has value as far as it goes, but none is founded on an understanding of the essential human capacities. Therefore putting one of these theories into practice is often more difficult, more disruptive and less beneficial than it could be.

For example Total Quality Management (TQM) theory places a great emphasis on considering the needs and expectations of the customer, as well it should. TQM places the customer above other members of a community which includes those inside and outside the organization. Thus, TQM has evolved to include everyone in the definition of a customer. Members of the organization who are not in direct touch with the public are seen as "internal" customers and, we are told, should therefore be included among those addressed by the program. Likewise, the needs and expectations of suppliers should be considered as though they were a customer. In one case study even the Internal Revenue Service in its collection capacity was deemed to be a customer. All this to apply the theory of being "customer-driven."

The learning organization follows a more fundamental principle: that we should employ the human potential of all who are involved in or affected by our choices and action, and that we should anticipate the impact of such choices and actions on this potential as we make policies. It follows that a program which demands blind obedience to the decisions of senior management and which does not consider the human potential of those involved and affected (i.e., employees, customers, suppliers, even the IRS if need be) will be seen as dehumanizing. Moreover, the decision to implement TQM should bear in mind the Essential Human Capacities of those whom it affects at the front end, and not after the program has been initiated.

The highly popular book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic by Stephen Covey provides another example. In this book, Covey describes three principles: "Think win/win," "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," and "Synergize (creative cooperation)." These are wonderful principles, but Covey does not state why one should accept them. He makes the assertion that they are based upon natural principles found in every enduring  religion, social philosophy or ethical system. Yet he goes no further.

Our notion of the learning organization provides the underlying foundation for those principles. It is obvious that our capacity to think creatively and critically must be employed if we are to "Think win/win." The ability to communicate ideas and concepts must be exercised if we are to "Understand, then be understood." And the human capacity for cooperative inquiry and action comes into play when we engage in "Creative cooperation." His principles reflect that which is most essentially human about us.

Summary. An understanding of the essential human capacities provides a foundation for organizations to comprehend and integrate the skills, knowledge, habits, disciplines, principles and practices that management theories urge upon us.

By subscribing to these ideas, learning organizations will necessarily consider the impact of their decisions upon suppliers, neighbors, government and future generations. This results in genuine involvement, higher quality judgments and opinions, and a sense of shared vision for employees, customers, suppliers and communities alike. In the final analysis, it is this understanding which leads to:

  • A greatly improved product or service
  • A major decrease in wasted resources
  • A motivated workforce
  • The best opportunity to increase profits
  • A sustained competitive advantage
  • Better governmental and community relationships

Organizational Design and Organizational Ethics

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