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Alford reports that "for some, the earth moves when they discover that people in authority routinely lie and that those who work for them routinely cover up. Once one knows this, or rather once one feels this knowledge in one's bones, one lives in a new world. Some people remain aliens in the new world forever. Maybe they like it that way. Maybe they don't have a choice." (Alford, 52).
With respect to the case study at hand here, this was an experience which afflicted me with heavily mixed feelings at Allied. The vacuum of integrity in the industry was counterintuitive to my understanding of business practices that were sensible in the long-term and that abided traditional moral conditions in their execution. As a major consequence of this paradox, I found myself often in a position where balance was crucial. The major divide between my commitment to my principles and my loyalty to an employer's whose principles were divergent from my own was one only driven wider by the difficulties of context. Within an industry that appeared to not only encourage but cater to the vices in honesty and integrity which were my employer's, I had to choose carefully my approach to the daily operation of the company.
Indeed, the fact that Mr. Caldwell was bolstered in his behavior by similar standards throughout the industry would exacerbate the complexity of my dilemma. With consideration to the dilemma over whether or not to attempt to alter an organizational atmosphere that deviates from conventional terms of ethicality, research has assessed that "the putative benefits depend upon the assumption that the corruption transgresses a wrong or inefficient economic policy, overcomes limitations in an imperfect political system, or gets around imperfections in organizational rules. In short, if the prevailing system is bad, then corruption may be good." (DeLeon, 35)
Therefore, in evaluating circumstances at Allied, I was often forced to consider whether or not the connotation which I would attribute to a set of behaviors such as dishonesty or fiscal irresponsibility was merely shaped by personal prejudice rather than by the relevant conditions within the workplace.
Upon close inspection, I would generally find my position of objection vindicated by operational failures. Within the cyclical pattern to which my employer seemed beholden, there was a tendency for dishonesty and fiscal irresponsibility to share a reciprocal relationship with operational failures. Our poor service with clients would, while not necessarily ending the relationships susceptible to such, have the impact of reducing the level of reliance which some customers would place on our company's services. This translated to diminished sales with individual clients, obviously a condition which contrasts with the goals of any production and retail organization.
In drawing the determination that the contextual vagaries of the industry were not sufficient justification for the ethical shortcomings which had become institutionalized at Allied, I was also able to establish a connection between specific operational problems and this deviation from ethical soundness. It had become clear to me that through a more efficient system of inventory maintenance, through better ergonomic production processes, through more thorough communication with clients, we could establish a circumstance in which deviations from ethicality would become less necessary and less practical.
This awareness begot the further revelation that a stratified approach to the ethical conditions at Allied which sought to work with the structural opportunities there available rather than against the internal bottleneck that was Mr. Caldwell might create a more favorable working environment for all. This invokes the decision-problem tool from Evan Berman's the Ethics Edge, the Ethics Triangle. (See Figure Below). By devising three separate and related strategies which appeal to alternative means to addressing ethical shortcomings in a developing company, I was able to bring gradual improvement to the circumstances at Allied. The three-part strategy was composed with the notion in mind that the dilemma between organizational loyalty and business ethicality could be resolved neutrally by way of the aforementioned rectification of basic operational problems, the diffusion of ethical appropriateness to the general personnel and the self-directed orientation toward ethical behavior.
The conditions at Allied Medical Products challenged my managerial sensibilities and my understanding of the appropriate ways to conduct business. It was essentially my observation that the methods selected by my employer, Mr. Caldwell, to routinely conduct business not only diverged from my sense of ethical rightness but also tended more often than not to compromise the company's efficiency. My position, officially denoted as General Manager of Operations, was constituted of a diverse range of responsibilities too extensive and varied to list in full. Such responsibilities were often contingent upon day-to-day and gradual changes in priority and procedure. This was one of the hallmarks of a small and developing company that had the effect, within the context of Allied, of forcing errors and practical shortcomings such as inventory errors, client misinformation and the general failure to stay on schedule.
This invokes the demand for the first leg of the Ethics Triangle which applies to Allied. In the drive to bringing ethical behavior into routinization at Allied, it became a top priority to determine and eliminate some of the root motives for unethical behavior. In this case, much of the behavior in question was coming from directly above. It was the prerogative of Mr. Caldwell to employ a set of very questionable tactics in walking the precarious balance between meeting the financial demands of creditors and the supply requisites of clients while sustaining overall organizational growth. Allied underwent a number of common setbacks in achieving all of such goals in simultaneity, including customer dissatisfaction, slow sales periods, production errors and the standard ebb and flow of creating lasting relationships with customers. Within the framework of these challenges, Mr. Caldwell oversaw an atmosphere in which creditors were issued bad checks, debts were accrued with major provision suppliers, extensive back-logs of product demand were accumulated with clients who were often de-prioritized for personal reasons and by in large long-term clients and creditors were never kept abreast of financial hardships or other extenuating circumstances at Allied. Rather, they were subjected to poor maintenance of accounts and inconsistent service.
It had become gradually apparent to me that the company for which I was working was not engaged in broad-based corruption but in systemically unethical behavior. My loyalty to my boss was resulting in a circumstances where I, against my better judgment, was engaging in unethical behavior. Much of the implementation of my responsibilities had to be tailored to be consistent with the circumstances created by Mr. Caldwell. This might have included the explicit command to give clients false information, to engage in 'stall tactics' with clients that included sending them incorrect orders or to simply tell telephoning debt collectors that Mr. Caldwell was 'in a meeting.' It became my personal policy at Allied to eliminate the conditions which I had begun to find were transgressing my sense of rightness by refining the day-to-day operations at Allied. As communication breakdown often served as Mr. Caldwell's de facto explanation for the issuance of bad checks and his failure to submit proper inventory requests, I took the opportunity to hone communication lines within the facility. I instituted an action-journal system in which all inventory requests, line item entries, production responsibilities, schedule changes and other operational concerns were to be recorded in a stationary journal accessible to all. It was thereafter the responsibility of all team members to participate in and monitor the daily entries which comprised this journal.
This was one of a variety of changes which began to occur throughout the workplace, changing our relationship with external organizations and changing the way we communicated with one another. Here, it had become apparent to me that my position afforded me the opportunity to shape the nature of the organization, particularly in contrast to my employer's self-oriented approach. Paving the path for better operational functionality, I began to offer a contrast not just to my employer's lack of ethicality but also to his lack of effective leadership. As the text by Johnson (2005) indicates, leadership is not just defined according to the degree that one commands authority. Its definition should also be entwined in an understanding of the most prudent ways to steward an organization toward success. As Johnson points out, "when we function as leaders, we take on a unique set of ethical challenges in addition to a set of expectations and task. These dilemmas involve issues of power, privilege, deceit consistency, loyalty, and responsibility. How we handle the challenges of leadership will determine if we cause more harm than good." (Johnson, 10)
The first leg of the triangle had oriented me to offer a contrast to Mr. Caldwell that could be communicated to the rest of the staff in clear but respectfully terms.
This second leg of the Ethics Triangle under consideration was complex in execution. Having qualified and dedicated personnel is a key to maintaining a sound ethic environment in the…[continue]
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