Ethics and Leadership Failures: The Enron Case
Gibney's 2005 documentary film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room reveals some of the main ethical weaknesses in an unbridled neoliberal capitalist market system. Barely addressing environmental and social justice issues, the filmmakers instead choose to focus on organizational culture, leadership, and ethical decision making within the corporation. The film illustrates the core concepts of business ethics and shows how executives shape company values and behaviors. Disturbingly, the Enron case also shows how unethical corporate behavior is linked with unethical behavior in government.
Summarize in one paragraph how you would explain Enron's ethical meltdown
Enron's ethical meltdown is a result of two interrelated issues: unethical individuals making unethical decisions, and an organizational culture that enables unethical decisions to proliferate. The unethical decisions and behaviors mainly have to do with stock market manipulation and the falsifying of information related to the actual performance of the firm. By fooling the market into believing that Enron was making money, it attracted increased shareholder revenues and proceeded to bull its way through the system unnoticed by regulators. The organizational culture at Enron was actually oriented towards manipulating the market almost as if it were the company mission -- the culture was also strictly oriented towards performance because the bottom 15% of employees would be fired every year. So it was more than competitive, and the human resources systems did not build in anything that would prevent unethical behavior to meet targets. There are therefore two separate issues related to Enron's culture: first...
That atmosphere has more to do with human resources and labor issues than about the white collar crimes committed by Enron executives. Both of these issues combined to create an ethical meltdown.
2. How would you characterize Enron's culture and what role, and in what way, do you think culture played in the ethical issues at Enron?
Enron's culture problems began the top of the company, where pumping up the earnings was the only thing that mattered -- it was the de facto way to boost earnings. If the earnings were not reflective of reality in terms of how much revenue Enron actually brought in, that fact wasn't as important as the faAade of good earnings.
Skilling played a key role in this cultural orientation because he insisted on mark-to-market accounting, which showed that the company was oriented more towards the illusion of high profits, even if those profits did not yet exist and senior executives condoned and participated in the fraud, as the documentary shows. Being devoid of ethics allowed for a few short-term gains but resulted in the colossal ethical failures at Enron and an exposure of widespread corruption in the capitalist market system.
In Chapters 3 and 4 of Management, Bateman, Snell & Konopaske (2016) discuss organizational environment and culture and how these elements affect all aspects of the company's operations from senior management decisions to the behaviors of subordinates. The authors refer to the "macroenvironment," which influences the culture through laws and regulations that restrain organizations and their behaviors (Bateman, Snell & Konopaske (2016, p. 44). In the Enron case, the macroenvironment and pesky things like law means little if those laws and regulations are irregularly enforced, for example, or if it is easy for executives to get away with white collar crimes as it was for Enron. The filmmakers do imply some degree of governmental collusion if not outright cover-ups…
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