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Ethics and Policy Toolkit

This is a "toolkit for ethics & policy study" based upon the philosophical premises of this Web site and experience gained in applying it to real life cases.


Many of these tools are described in more detail in the new book: Business Ethics: A Manual for Managing the Responsible Business Enterprise in Emerging Market Economies.

Twelve fundamental tools used by Strategies for Responsible Business for ethics, compliance, and responsibility planning and organizational design and development are posted here. A number more are on their way.

Other excellent tools can be found on our ethics and policy resources page.

A Framework to Approach Ethics and Policy Study

The purpose of this concept paper is to set forth an approach to developing and employing a framework for inquiry and understanding in ethics and policy studies. It is based upon fundamental works on human action, management theory, and critical thinking. It is methodological and concentrates on how to think and communicate about ethics and policy issues, rather than on the issues themselves (Brady 7). Its components and their relationships are graphically portrayed in the system model attached.


There are a number of assumptions underlying this approach:

First, it should promote "reflection and decision making under circumstances of complexity" (Beauchamp 5).

Second, it should employ the skills of higher-order thinking, that is, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as well as the skills of communicating orally and in writing.

Third, it should reflect and require quality judgment and quality action, however the framework defines and employs those concepts.

Fourth, its reasoning, conclusions, and projections must be reducible to a form that can be communicated to others who are involved, affected, or interested.

Fifth, it must be systemic in nature, that is, it must effectively relate the organization to both its external and internal environments.

Sixth, it should model ethics and policy at the fifth and sixth stages of Kohlberg's moral reasoning.

Elements of an Approach to the Ethics & Policy Framework

Introduction. David A. Nadler and Michael L. Tushman clearly describe just how complex the process of reasoning in an organizational context is. Moreover, they emphasize the importance of having tools readily at hand to make, communicate, and evaluate decisions made.

How can one achieve understanding and learn how to predict and control organizational behavior? Given its inherent complexity and enigmatic nature, one needs tools to unravel the mysteries, paradoxes, and apparent contradictions. One tool is the conceptual framework or model. A model is a theory that indicates which factors (in an organization, for example) are most critical or important. It also shows how these factors are related-that is, which factors or combination of factors cause other factors to change. In a sense then, a model is a roadmap that can be used to make sense of the terrain of organizational behavior. (Nadler and Tushman 92)

The framework Nadler and Tushman describe is a congruence model. Such a model is based on the premise that the elements in a system must be congruent, or fit, with each other and with the surrounding environment as well (92-93). If not, the organization can be neither effective, efficient, nor ethical.

Why Ethics and Policy? Organizational leaders and managers, moreover, are responsible for the vision, strategies, and principles that drive the organization. As F. Neil Brady writes, "any issue that implies significant harm or benefit to others may be described as ethical" (3). Indeed, he writes that "good managers employ ethical theoretic thinking almost routinely and . . . organizational policies and procedures are permeated by it" (v). Thus, we hold leaders and managers "responsible for organizational rules" (4). Another way to look at fundamental aspects of ethics and policy, as I have written elsewhere, is to consider as ethical any issue that implies material impact on human choice or the achievement of organizational or community purpose.

When these rules are fundamental to the operations of the organization, we think of them as policies. An Ethics & Policy Framework, then, should provide a way for thinking and communicating about an organization that addresses the critical questions, arguments, and actions that significantly harm or benefit those involved in and affected by its actions. Moreover, this way of thinking and communicating should permeate all the decisions, policies, and actions of the organization.

Minimum Essentials. At a minimum, it seems reasonable to assume that an adequate Framework would involve certain elements. It should recognize that the organization operates in an environment, and include that portion of the organization's environment that the organization actually perceives, that is, its context. It should be clear as to its purpose, and specifically surface the question(s), argument(s), or action(s) at issue. There must be some set of elements reflecting the factors of organizational behavior that the organization must develop and employ well for the organization to be effective, efficient, and ethical. It is helpful to think of these as pathfinding, problem solving, and implementing (Leavitt 33). So that the relevant question(s), argument(s), and action(s) have been surfaced, framed, analyzed, and evaluated well, the organization needs to reach some sense of what quality judgment and action are. There must be some output from the process that will lead to the sort of organization it desires to be, or vision of where it wants to go, or the principles that will guide its actions, or its plans. Finally, it must account for the impact of the consequences of both the process and the output on the context and processes of the organization.

Concept of Congruence-A degree of congruence, consistency or "fit" exists between each pair of organizational inputs. The congruence between two components is defined as "the degree to which the needs, demands, goals, objectives, and/or structures of one component are consistent with the needs, demands, goals, objectives, and/or structures of another component."

Essential Elements of an Ethics & Policy Framework

There are at least nine elements necessary for an Ethics & Policy Framework to be effective, which are described in detail below:

  1. Contextual Input
  2. Purpose: Questions, Arguments, Actions at issue
  3. Pathfinding Function
  4. Problem-solving Function
  5. Implementing Function
  6. Value Dimension: Norms, Standards, Principles
  7. Quality Judgment/Action
  8. Output: The Organization in Being; Strategic, Trajectory, and Value Images
  9. Implication and Consequences: Feedback

1. Contextual Input. An organization is an open system, which interacts with its environment. The organization is not conscious of all aspects of its environment, at all times. The organization functions in a context of pressures, resources, and history.

The pressures represent "all factors, including institutions, groups, individuals, events, and so on, that are outside the organization being analyzed, but that have a potential impact on the organization" (Nadler and Tushman 96). These impacts can be organized as the threats the organization, opportunities, demands, constraints, and uncertainties the organization perceives.

The resources of the organization are all those "assets to which the organization has access, including human resources, technology, capital, information, and so on, as well as less tangible resources (recognition in the market, and so forth)" (Nadler and Tushman 96).

The history of the organization is "the patterns of past behavior, activity, and effectiveness of the organization that may affect current organizational functioning" (Nadler and Tushman 96). This includes such factors as "strategic decisions, acts of key leaders, crises, and core values and norms" (Nadler and Tushman 96).

2. Purpose: Question at issue, Dilemma to be Resolved, or Problem to be Solved. When a significant harm to or benefit for those involved in or affected by the organization is perceived, this input is filtered into the ethics & policy process as one or more of the three essential human attributes of questions, arguments, and actions (Golden and Jamison; Hoppe; Mises). As such, these questions, arguments, and actions are derivative; they reflect the pressures, resources, and history of the organization and are the most direct input into the Ethics & Policy process.

3. Pathfinding. For an organization to be effective, efficient, and ethical, it must have a strong sense of where it is going, where it is relative to that vision, and what it can reasonably expect (Mises 13-14; Senge 142, 55). This is the leadership and management function of pathfinding.

4. Problem Solving. "Whenever we reason [or communicate], there is at least one question at issue, at least one problem to be solved" (Paul 98).

The framework needs to be adept at formulating a dilemma or problem in a clear and relevant way, to choose from among alternative formulations, to discuss the merits of different versions of the question at issue, to recognize common key elements in statements of different problems, to structure the articulation of dilemmas and problems so as to make possible lines of solution more apparent. In short, the problem solving process works to close the gap between the vision and the current reality.

5. Implementing. It is not enough to merely make a decision and communicate it. Some form of action is required to put the decision into action. Management theory, as Harold Leavitt writes, is based on the wielding of power. "Implementing in organizations . . . almost always requires some persuading, commanding or manipulating or forcing other people to do what you want done" (Leavitt 35). If an organization is to be effective, efficient, and ethical, implementing must be the result of the exercise of authority (Kennedy and Charles).

It is helpful, then, to expand on the levels of intervention that Leavitt describes-coercion, manipulation, and persuasion-to include the facilitation and inspiration that permits those involved in or affected by an organization to live lives of maximum dignity and freedom (UOP 29).

6. Value Dimension: Norms, Standards, Principles. Whenever we reason or communicate, the ends and means chosen are essential drivers of human action. Understanding of the case requires that the visions, views or reality and expectations that purposeful action will fill the gap between vision and reality of all those involved or affected be recognized and evaluated.

The framework must be able to identify the ends and means sought by those involved and affected by the case, choose among different ends and means to those ends, and reason about the subjective valuations that lead to choosing those ends and means, the personal qualities of the persons who chose those ends and means, and the inheritance and environment that led to those personal qualities (Mises 13-14, 46-47).

Here is where the decision maker or actor employs various theories of applied ethics. It is helpful to analyze these theories into one of four bodies of thought: Essential Social Responsibility, the Ethics of Social Purpose, Organizational Ethics, and Environmental Ethics. It is here-where these bodies of thought overlap-that the principles set forth in the dominant theories of Western ethics reside: virtue ethics, utilitarianism, deontology, ethical egoism, ethical relativism, contractarianism, justice, and caring, to name a few (UOP chaps. 1-8).

7. Quality Judgment/Action. The framework needs to have some sort of filter that insures that the ethics and policy process has been accomplished in an ethical manner. This, then, is the methodological or process aspect of ethics. It answers the questions, Has this manner been addressed in an ethical manner, and will the actions taken to implement any decision be ethical in and of themselves?

8. Output: The Organization in Being and its Strategic, Trajectory, and Value Images. The output from the ethics and policy process will depend upon the purpose of the inquiry.

Taken from the broadest perspective, the output is the ethical being of the organization itself. As has been said of Aristotle, "the virtuous person must enjoy being virtuous" (UOP 21). Action performed must not be an isolated incident but rather a manifestation of an enduring state of character" (UOP 22).

Lee Roy Beach, in his landmark work, Image Theory: Decision Making in Personal and Organizational Contexts, writes that decision making is cognitive process, the output from which is the cognitive structures of value, trajectory, and strategic images. In Beach's view, an image is a schema, which consist of "elements, concepts, and the relationships among them, that are pertinent in some sphere of interest to an actor" (Beach 18).

The value image is composed of principles, which has the broadest possible definition in Beach's approach:

The principles that are the constituents of this image [that] define what one means when one speaks of such old-fashioned concepts as one's code of honour, ethics, and ideals, as well as one's fundamental standards of equality, justice, solidarity, stewardship, truth, beauty, and goodness, together with one's moral, civic, and religious precepts and the responsibility one assumes when performing one's mundane daily duties and in engaging in routine social intercourse. (Beach 23).

The trajectory image defines the ends that the decision maker and organization desires. Beach defines the trajectory image as "the agenda of goals that the decision maker has decided to adopt and pursue" (28).

A vision or set goals, however, is not sufficient alone to guide decision making (McCall and Kaplan 39-40). Problem recognition involves the "identification of discrepancies-differences between an existing and a desired state of affairs-that announce the presence of problems" (12). The desired state of affairs is contained in standards of the past, plans and forecasts, and benchmarking (12-13). The standard might also be the vision of the organization, although vision alone is not enough (39-40). When these discrepancies are seen, the manager then embarks on a "search-and-interpret mission" to "find" the problem (13).

The strategic image defines the means that the decision maker and organization have adopted to achieve the desired ends. These means take the forms of plans, which are abstract, and tactics, which are "the concrete behaviors that are implied by the plan" (Beach 31). Plans have a strong temporal aspect that relates "an anticipated sequence of activities that begins with goal adoption and ends with goal attainment" (Beach 31). Tactics are more or less clearly defined, though they are often contingent upon events.

9. Implication and Consequence. "No matter where we stop our reasoning, it will always have further implications and consequences. As reasoning develops, statements will logically be entailed by it" (Paul 99).

The framework must be able to identify important implications, . . . to make fine discriminations among necessary, probable, and improbable consequences, to distinguish between implications and assumptions, to recognize the weakness of [any person's] position as shown by the implausibility of its implications, to exercise intellectual fairmindedness in discriminating between the likelihood of dire and mild consequences of an action to which one is opposed" (Paul 99).

Feedback information is of three types:

  • Measurable Impact-The first are the measurable impacts upon the input factors and transformation processes of the organization in producing its goods and services.
  • Measurement Systems-The second are the formal systems or processes that allow organizations to measure, evaluate and learn from the functioning of the various elements of its organizational structure, particularly the formal and informal organizational arrangements.
  • Cultural Impact-The third are the informal effects on the inputs and components of the organization that are more difficult to identify or measure, but which influence perceptions of "how business is done around here."

Ethics & Policy Framework Format. The above elements can be organized into virtually any format provided it is useful as a practical guide to decision making and action. It may be graphically or textually displayed:

    1. Graphically: each element (plus any others deemed essential) as a component of the model depicting the relationships between each.
    2. Textually: in outline form with defined terms and relationships.
    3. Textually: in checklist form with questions to pursue in making a decision.

Works Cited

Beach, Lee Roy. Image Theory: Decision Making in Personal and Organizational Contexts. Chichester and New York: John Wiley, 1990.

Beauchamp, Tom L. Case Studies in Business, Society, and Ethics. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Brady, F. Neil. Ethical Managing: Rules and Results. New York: MacMillan, 1990.

Golden, James L., and Jamison, David L. "Meyer's Theory of Problematology." Revue Internationale de Philosophie. 44 (1990): 329-351.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. The Economics and Ethics of Private Property. Boston/Dordrecht/London: Kluwer, 1993.

Kennedy, Eugene, and Sara C. Charles. Authority: The Most Misunderstand Idea in America. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Leavitt, Harold. "Management and Management Education in the West: What's Right and What's Wrong? The Management of Organizations: Strategies, Tactics, Analyses. Ed. Michael L. Tushman, Charles O'Reilly, and David A. Nadler. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

McCall, Morgan W., Jr., and Robert E. Kaplan. Whatever It Takes: The Realities of Managerial Decision Making. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1990.

Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. 3rd rev. ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1966.

Nadler, David A. and Michael L. Tushman. "A Model for Diagnosing Organizational Behavior: Apply a Congruence Perspective." The Management of Organizations: Strategies, Tactics, Analyses. Ed. Michael L. Tushman, Charles O'Reilly, and David A. Nadler. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Paul, Richard W. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive In a Rapidly Changing World. 2nd Rev. ed. Ed. A.J.A. Blinker. Santa Ana, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1992.

University of Phoenix, PHL 323 Module: University of Phoenix Material, "Preparing Case Study Analyses."

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