Case Studies of Organizational Ethics
My hope is that this book will motivate you to think more critically about organizational ethics in your own life and also in the lives of others. More specifically, the book will (1) introduce you to a range of ethical theories based on duty, rights, utility, virtue, and relationships and (2) explore case studies of organizations that either enable or constrain common elements of ethical practice such as alignment, dialogic communication, participation, transparency, accountability, and courage.
One of the reasons I was motivated to edit this volume is because many organizational case study books tend to be both atheoretical and ahistorical in their focus and typically marginalize ethics. By contrast, this book seeks to conceptualize and historicize ethics-oriented cases by (1) providing a theoretical foundation of ethical perspectives that can be applied to them, (2) identifying sets of ethical practices that might serve as examples for future organizational behavior, and (3) drawing upon their relationship to other cases (e.g., within an industry, a nation-state, a profession) within a particular period of time. The contributors to the book were encouraged to utilize their own scholarly strengths and expertise to develop fuller, richer cases, while also supplementing their expertise with additional historical and current resources. As such, the cases should be seen merely as a starting point for a more thorough and complex understanding of the cases themselves— and others that may be related to them by topic, issue, ethical perspective, or practice.
The cases in this volume were selected because they focus on organizations that have confronted challenging ethical dilemmas and, as a result, have acted ethically or unethically in response to them. That is, the cases in the book represent a full range of organizational practices, from overt violations of the law to exemplars of responsible behavior. Each case, however, is written to direct you to ethical dilemmas that present tensions, contradictions, challenges, and/or opportunities for the organization and others that it affects. You will also notice that, in contrast to some other case study books, these cases are about real—rather than hypothetical—organizations. I believe it is important for such organizations to be included in a case study book, first to present you with a realistic account of organizational life and second to hold unethical organizations accountable and to praise ethical organizations.
As you will see when you read the cases, contributors were asked to define organization broadly to include not only businesses but also other types of organizations (e.g., educational institutions, religious institutions, political organizations, nonprofit organizations) and organizing, in general. This is in stark contrast to most business ethics case study books that focus exclusively on corporations. Contributors were also encouraged to write cases that examined broader cultural constructions of work (e.g., work and identity, work– family balance, welfare-to-work programs, health care and work, globalization) that are so relevant to our everyday lives. The book, then, not only explores ethical issues within organizations but also within the social, political, economic, ideological, and technological contexts that affect, and are affected by, organizations.
Each case also examines a unique dimension of organizational communication. Some cases focus on the communication response of organizations after a product or service has failed. Other cases in the book explore the communication strategies of leaders who have produced [Page xviii]ethical organizations. Or, in some cases, communication is discussed as a means to “frame” organizational decisions. Still others explore how gender, race, and family are constructed in and through communication within organizations.
You will also notice that a variety of sources were used in constructing these cases about organizational ethics, including observations, interviews, questionnaires, and documents (e.g., company documents, media coverage, legal materials, legislative hearings, professional association studies/reports). As a result, some cases are organized chronologically to follow a timeline of events while others are structured in a narrative form.
Regardless of the structure of each case, though, you should first identify the ethical dilemmas that are raised in the case. Once you have identified the ethical dilemmas, use the ethical perspectives and practices in combination with outside resource materials to fully understand, appreciate, and discuss their complexities. You should be able to understand the context of the case, the evolution of the ethical dilemmas, and the key actors facing them. Finally, as you develop your own opinions about the cases, be sure to consider alternative views that may be presented by your instructor or by other students. Doing so strengthens your “ethical agility” and better prepares you for the variety of ethical dilemmas you may confront in the future.
Although I will not recount all of the cases here, you will find a wide array of organizations and ethical issues in this volume. Here are some of the cases:
- Walmart—The case examines criticisms of the company that its economic impact “limits the ability of local businesses to survive.” The case study also examines how Walmart has responded to charges that it negatively affects local businesses.
- British Petroleum (BP)—The case examines the range of decisions that led to the country's largest oil spill that damaged not only natural resources in southern states but also the livelihood of many workers there.
- Mitsubishi—The case addresses a class action sexual discrimination lawsuit by several female employees of the company and explores their claims, as well as the company and union responses to them.
- Aon Hewitt—The case considers the degree to which single and married employees with families should be treated similarly or differently.
- Enron—The case explores the ways in which overidentification of employees can cause them to overlook, if not misrepresent, unethical behavior in an organization.
- Toyota—The case discusses how Toyota sought to manage a product recall crisis in ways that maintained its reputation for safe vehicles.
- Google—The case explores the extent to which Google negotiated policies with the Chinese government that allowed broader access to users’ data and content.
- College Athletics and Integrity—The case examines scandals and fraud in several university athletic departments that have increasingly focused on the financial benefits of sports programs at the expense of academic integrity. [Page xix]
- Wyeth—The case discusses how human health can be negatively affected when a pharmaceutical company ghostwrites articles for prestigious medical journals, without the general knowledge of physicians and patients.
As students of organizations, it is particularly important that you be able to first identify current trends regarding ethics and then, second, to intervene in the emergence, development, and acceptance (or rejection) of those trends. The case studies should help you in that process. Before we move to the cases themselves, though, it is important for you to have some additional background information regarding a range of ethical perspectives and ethical practices. The Introduction will provide that theoretical and practical foundation for you to thoroughly explore the case studies. The Introduction should give you the tools to understand, critique, and apply theoretical and practical material to the cases and, ultimately, to consider alternative, ethical futures for organizations.
Case Studies in Organizational Communication 2
Perspectives on Contemporary Work Life
Edited by Beverly Davenport Sypher
May 10, 1997
Size: 6" x 9"
—Linda Putnam, PhD, Professor and Head, Department of Speech Communication, Texas A&M University.
“This is not an ordinary collection of organizational case studies. These cases are rich in detail and dialogue, offering a depth of contextual information that makes them ideal for teaching organizational behavior, industrial psychology, communication, or organizational sociology. The range of institutions represented in the collection—from the Mondragon collective, to human service agencies and high technology corporations—guarantees appeal and relevance to a wide range of audiences.”
—Joanne Martin, PhD, Merrill Professor of Organizational Behavior, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University; by Courtesy, Professor of Sociology, School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University
“At long last, a yawning gap in our literature is being filled....These cases are consistently fascinating and always provocative. By exhibiting the enormous complexity of human communication events in the organizational setting, they invite the reader to abandon simplistic notions and to engage in some mind-bending analysis. Now that this book is available, I can hardly conceive of offering a basic course in which it is not required reading.”
—W. Charles Redding, PhD, Purdue University