Reynolds and Bowie (2004) show that the three most important criteria of a Kant-based ethics system are to "act as though the maxim of your action were to…become a universal law of nature," to "act so that you treat humanity…always as an end and never as a means only" and "act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as universal law for all rational beings." These imperatives therefore should form the basis of any ethics program.
This implies a few things about ethics plans in the broadband business. The first is that employees should be a stakeholder of equal importance to any other, including the shareholders. All rational stakeholders must be given equal treatment in the ethic plan. The second implication is that the company should behave as though its behaviors are to be applied to it. This is of particular relevance to Telstra, which may find that it is a challenge to design an ethical program that prescribes such treatment for the government and for competitors, both of whom are actively battling the company to take market share away from Telstra.
Colle and Werhane (2008) point out that another component of an ethics plan must be a strategy for moral motivation. For example, even when legal protections exist for whistleblowers, there are cultural imperatives that prevent people from coming forward with such information (Allard, 2006). Programs that are strictly compliance-focused, such as may be expected to be found at highly bureaucratic firms, tend to emphasize the formal components but often ignore the informal ones (Colle & Werhane, 2008). Yet it is those informal components, such as corporate culture, that can drive the motivation for ethical behavior. Indeed, when formal extrinsic awards are granted, they are often disproportionate to the amount of damage the whistleblower has saved (Allard, 2006). Therefore, it is critical that any company installing an ethics program should place some focus on intrinsic ethics motivational systems as well.
Ethical culture is related to varying degrees to the different components of an ethics plan. Those components -- the code of ethics, an ethics officer, formal ethics training, a dedicated ethics hotline, disciplinary processes, response policies for investigations and incentives and rewards for ethical conduct -- need to be analyzed for their impact on the softer aspects of ethical culture (Kaptein, 2009).
Ethical programs will help to guide both Telstra and Optus in their broadband strategies. These programs will help to guide not only the everyday employees' actions but the actions of leadership as well. A properly designed ethics program will also include emphasis on the informal, cultural aspects of ethics. For the two companies, although their plans should likely look similar to one another, there are different operating circumstances that may impact the implementation of these plans.
Optus operates with only minimal government intervention, with the result being that it can pursue a basic ethics program that helps to guide it to fraud-free behavior. The ethics program for Optus, then, is a component of risk management. For Telstra, the ethics program may guide actions in such a manner as to protect key stakeholders such as shareholders and employees from the actions of government. The federal government has worked first to dismantle the company's profitability and now seeks to dismantle the company altogether. Setting aside the ethics of this behavior, it is important for Telstra to understand that its role at present may be to demonstrate ethics to its stakeholders rather than to behave in an ethical manner in the broad sense that a company like Optus is able to.
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Colle, S. & Werhane, P. (2008). Moral motivation across ethical theories: What can we learn for designing corporate ethics programs? Journal of Business Ethics. Vol. 81 (4) 751-764.
Allard, J. (2006). Ethics at work. CA Magazine. Vol. 139 (6) 30-35.
Kaptein, M. (2009). Ethics programs and ethical culture: A next step in unraveling their multi-faceted relationship. Journal of Business Ethics. Vol. 89 (2) 261-281.
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