The process of making a moral or ethical decision is governed largely by the values that are applied when making the decision. In any case where a decision is being made, there are a range of values that can potentially impact the decision. These include personal values, organizational values, and cultural values. The value system that is most significant will depend on both the context of the decision and the nature of the decision. This will now be explored by considering how moral and ethical decisions are made and what kinds of personal, organizational, and cultural values impact on decision making.
Before describing how my values impact decision making, it is important to first define the basis on which I make moral decisions. This is based on the three levels of personal moral development: the preconventional level, the conventional level, and the postconventional level (Graham 1995). The preconventional level is the most basic level and relates to a state where decision making is based on following rules, being obedient, and avoiding punishment. The conventional level is the middle level and relates to a state where decisions are made based on living up to the expectations of others. The postconventional level is highest level and relates to a state where decisions are made based only on personal judgments of what is right, with this including having no regard for how the decisions will be viewed by others. In my own moral development, I am at the middle level. While at times I aim to be at the higher postconventional level, I am often motivated by the expectations of others and by a need to be accepted by others. Being at this level also explains why I am impacted by organizational and cultural values as well as personal values and why my decision making differs based on whether the decision relates to my personal life or my professional life.
One of the organizational values that impacts my decision making relates to the idea that I am part of a team and need to be a valued member of that team. I understand that the organization values people who are considered team players, and this leads to an accepted view where I consider that it is important to fit in. With this value in mind, I can be inclined to ignore my personal morality and accept the morality of the group. Janis (2000, p. 171) refers to this as an example of groupthink where members of a group accept the morality of the group as a whole and tend to "ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions." In regards to this, I would not state that I am able to completely ignore the ethical and moral consequences of decisions. Instead, it is more like I am able to justify decisions that I do not consider personally ethical because I consider that being an accepted part of the team is more important than fighting for moral gains. This is closely related to my level of personal moral development, where I am driven to make decisions based on the expectations of others. In this case, I act based on my view of what other members of the organization expect of me. Woodman and Pasmore (1990, p. 4) note that the majority of employees will go along with the ethical values of the organization to fit in and gain acceptance. This is an accurate explanation of why I accept the ethical values of the organization, with this based on wanting to fit in. In addition, I see that fitting in and gaining acceptance will also provide personal rewards via promotion within the company. This is another aspect that motivates the acceptance of organizational values.
Another related organizational value is based on the idea that the organization exists for its own benefit. In short, the primary goal of the organization is to make money. With this view, I accept that my personal moral standards do not apply within the organization. In short, I accept that my personal opinions are not necessarily valid within the organization. For example, I might personally believe in displaying social responsibility by recycling. While this is my personal belief, I accept that it is not my place to infringe my personal beliefs on the organizations. The organization operates on a framework where profits are more important than social responsibility and I accept this framework. However, accepting this framework for the organization does not mean that I accept the same for myself personally. Instead, I simply make decisions within the organization based on the framework of the organization.
While I do generally make professional decisions based on organizational values, there are cases where I have put my own values ahead of those of the organization. This has occurred in situations where I have had to make personal decisions. For example, there was a situation where I was pressured to place the blame for an error on another employee. Despite this being what the group wanted, I went against this and chose to accept the blame for the error rather than blame it on an innocent employee. In this case, the difference was that the moral decision was specifically focused on another individual. In most business examples, this is not the case. Instead, moral decisions are focused on consumers as a whole or competitors as a whole. The main point is that there is rarely a specifically identified individual. In the exception described there was a specific individual and this changes the moral basis of the decision. Rather than think of the decision as an overall organizational one, I considered it as a personal one between myself and the other employee. With this focus, my personal values became more important than organizational values. Jansen and Von Gilnow (1985) predicted this outcome, where they describe how most individuals will act based on their own personal values when faced with a situation where they are unable to justify the organizational decision. This illustrates how my decision making is impacted by organizational values, where I adopt the values of the organization when I am operating on the basis of being an employee of the organization. However, my personal values remain the same. The significant difference is that I often consider my values as being like my personal opinions, in that they are not necessarily valid in a work situation. However, my personal values can override organizational values in certain situations.
One of the cultural values that impacts my decision making is the idea that there is a significant difference between ethics in general life and ethics in work. This is related to the general concept that 'all is fair in love and war.' While I do not accept this view that anything goes in business, I do consider that ethics and morality are not as important in a professional or business setting as they are in a personal setting. With this in mind, I adopt much lower ethical standards in my professional life. Another related cultural value is the idea that I should be loyal to an organization that is paying me. This cultural value makes me less inclined to question the morality of the organization I work for. At the same time, I feel that it is my place to do what is asked of me and not my place to infringe my personal views on the organization. For these reasons, I pay much less attention to moral standards in a professional setting. Instead, I pay more attention to what the organization requires and expects from me. I consider that the ability to ignore my own personal moral values when making decisions is also related to the fact that I can justify my decisions be referring to…