Does Training Improve Ethical Behavior?

Those of us in the MBA program have had several classes now where ethics have been discussed and taught. A post from the Finance Professor Blog poses this question, "Do training and new regulations lead to more ethical behavior?" In the same sentence, the author gives his answer, "Maybe, Maybe not." I guess this a safe enough answer, but it seems to hit the nail on the head. I think most people agree that ethics are important. By the same token, it seems that encouraging improved ethics through training or regulation would be a good thing. I believe ethics training is very useful and worthwhile. However, it is up to the individual to use what he/she has learned and apply it.

I often feel like the subject of ethics is discussed as a "situational analysis". To me though, situational analysis covers only one part of it. There seems to be two layers involved. That is, the situational layer and the core layer. The core layer consists of time-honored "laws" that just about everyone can agree on. This would include important principles like honesty and integrity. No amount of change or new thinking can change these principles or the effects of not following them. I doubt anyone serious about ethics would demean the value of honesty or integrity.

Let me clarify the distinction between core principles and situational analysis. Dr. Hamlin had a discussion recently on ethics in his Organizational Issues class. Many points of view were shared and many determined that defining ethics was a moving target. I agree that it can be difficult because there are many "gray areas". During the class he told us about some scam artist that tried to rip him off by using false money orders. No one in the class argued about the ethics of such behavior. It would have been silly to do so. This is an example of a core principle that everyone agreed on. It may have been that it was so much at the core, that people did not even think twice about it.

I usually do not enjoy discussing ethics in classes. I feel like the study of situational analysis detached from core principles does little good. It is hard to define and agree on what is right and wrong in each any every situation. However, we need to realize that core ethical principles can act as “pillars” to guide us even when there are “gray areas” or unclear solutions. I have seen the good side and the bad side of ethics training. I feel like SUU does a great job because professors teach moral behavior (core principles). I have attended other schools where moral behavior was formally taught, but unethical behavior was informally applauded.

Now, to answer this question, "Does training improve ethical behavior?" I have to agree with the author when he said, "Maybe, Maybe not". I think Dr. Christensen's explanation gives further clarity. He teaches that moral judgment can be taught, but moral courage is harder to teach. In essence, the teaching of ethics is good but the true test is whether you and I will have the courage to stand for what we know is right.


bryce said...

Wow, that is a great question. I think everyone I know would answer the same as the author, maybe - maybe not. I think that teaching ethics through training and education is a good idea. Ethics training and education can't be a bad thing, and it is definitely worth a shot. I don't like the idea of adding more regulation. We already have enough regulation in our lives, and is the current regulation doing anything to stop bad behavior?

Blake said...

qI really like this post! I think it poses a lot of great questions that don't necessarily have right or wrong answers. I especially agree with the point that there is a huge difference between knowing what is right, and actually behaving that way. Many people have been brought up with great value systems, and choose to live immoral and dishonest lives. It truly takes character, and strength to act with integrity, and those types of traits can't necessarily be taught, but rather have to be applied implementing them as part of a lifestyle and way of being, rather than points to memorize for a test, etc.