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Part II: Unethical Managers

Part II: Unethical Managers

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Unethical behavior is a serious problem in business as well as in most professions. It damages the company’s reputation, damages morale, interferes with hiring the best people, and as we saw with Enron, Arthur Anderson, and Worldcom, can bring down a company.

There are a wide number of unethical behaviors that some managers engage in at work.

Pad expense accountsFalsify accounting reports
Engage in creative accountingHave sex to make a sale
Accept or give bribes/kickbacksIgnore violation of environmental
Cut corners on safetyregulations
Cut corners on quality controlCover up incidents
Lie to customersMake promises they cannot keep
Price fixOverbill
Sell or steal trade secretsEngage in insider trading
Call in sick when wellForge signatures
Destroy incriminating documentsLie on resumes
Engage in character assassinationSteal credit
DiscriminateBully, intimidate, sexually harass

Some of these are common practices. Others are eschewed by the great majority of people. All of those mentioned here create a cost to the companies that tolerate them or fail to find them. Enron and Arthur Anderson have been devastated by major improprieties. The New York Times suffered significant loss in prestige and trust because of the actions of one reporter and the failure of the company to adequately monitor and intervene.

Profits are a necessary part of economic life in a market economy. They are not, however, the heart and soul of all companies. Many companies, like people, seek to do something socially useful at the same time that they need to be economically solvent. The vision statements of great companies and the dreams of those who run them are usually not to make as much money as possible. Walt Disney seeks to “bring joy to millions.” Sony sought to elevate the Japanese culture and national spirit, and experience the joy that comes from the advancement, application, and innovation of technology that benefits the general public. Hewlett-Packard seeks to make a contribution to fields in which it participates. Johnson and Johnson’s vision is “to alleviate pain and disease.”

Despite the visions that great companies espouse, those who work for them often slide into unethical behavior. It is not because the visions were publicity stunts. It is because under the pressures and stresses of organizational life, the things that need to be done to implement the visions are often not adequately attended to. Companies often do not pay enough attention to ethical issues when hiring, promoting, training, culture building, and measuring and rewarding behavior. Moreover, under the pressure of organizational life, seeing others break rules, and having the desire to move up and to take care of one’s family’s financial needs, otherwise ethical people may engage in significant improprieties. Moreover, those who lack ethical scruples, and whose conscience reminds you of a piece of Swiss cheese, can have a field day in organizations. Understanding what is driving unethical behavior is very important. With a better understanding of what motivates different kinds of unethical managers, companies can more effectively screen for them and train people to avoid such behavior.

There is a spectrum of people who engage in serious rule breaking or antisocial action. At one extreme are people who frequently lie, deceive, misappropriate funds, and commit larceny. At the other extreme are people who obey and almost always follow the rule of law and ethical standards. In between are people who go along with the culture of the organization they are in: If others are cheating on their expense accounts, they will. If others are not cheating, they will not. If others are sexually coercing women, they will join in.

Part II Overview

The chapters in Part II discuss the factors underlying unethical behavior, describe how these managers see the world and what guides their behavior, and provide information on how to most effectively deal with them and protect yourself. While antisocial managers lack a conscience and break rules both whenever convenient and simply for the thrill of ignoring societal edicts, opportunists primarily ignore ethical rules when they are under great pressure to achieve a goal and the rule is in the way.

  • Chapter 5—Antisocial Managers: Breaking Rules Is Fun

  • Chapter 6—Unethical Opportunists: I Have to Break This Rule



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