Giving Voice to Values

A business school near Boston offers a free, cross-disciplinary business curriculum and action-oriented pedagogical approach for developing the skills, knowledge and commitment required to implement values-based leadership. Drawing on experiences of managers as well as multi-disciplinary research, the curriculum helps students identify how to voice their values in the workplace, equipping future business leaders not only to know what is right, but how to make it happen.

Despite four decades of teaching ethics in business schools, readers of the business press are still regularly greeted with headlines about financial excess and scandal. Why don’t ethics programs work?

Business faculty in ethics courses spend a lot of time teaching theories of ethical reasoning and analyzing thorny dilemmas – triggering what one professor called “ethics fatigue.” Some students find such approaches intellectually engaging; others find them tedious and irrelevant. Either way, sometimes all they learn is how to frame the case to justify virtually any position, no matter how cynical or self-serving. Utilitarianism, after all, is tailor-made for a free market economy.

As for ethical dilemmas, too often they are couched as choices that only a chief executive could make – because only a CEO would confront them. The average 30-year old MBA graduate is not likely to decide whether to run a pipeline across the pristine wilderness – or whether to close the company’s manufacturing plant.

Ethical theory and high-level strategic dilemmas don’t help future managers and leaders figure out what to do when an executive wants to alter a financial report, or their sales team applies pressure to misrepresent the capabilities of their product, or they witness discrimination against a peer. These are the experiences that will shape business leaders’ ability to take on the strategic, ethical dilemmas.

Rather than the usual focus on ethical analysis, the Giving Voice to Values (GVV) curriculum focuses on ethical implementation and asks the questions: What would I say and do if I were going to act on my values?

The GVV near-term skill set revolves around what to say, to whom and how to say it when a the manager knows what he or she thinks is right when an ethical breach occurs – but doesn’t feel confident about how to action their convictions. This overlooked but consequential skill set is the first step in building ethical muscle.

Faculties at several business schools, including Yale, Notre Dame, MIT, INSEAD and the Indian School of Business have tested and re-tested elements of the pilot curriculum. Babson’s goal is to both build a conversation across the core curriculum (not only in ethics courses) – and provide the teaching aids and curriculum for a new way of thinking about ethics education.

GVV is funded by Babson College, developed with the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program as an incubator, and as a founding partner with the Yale School of Management. Drawing on both the actual experience of business practitioners as well as cutting-edge social science and management research, GVV fills a critical gap in business education – helping students identify the many ways that individuals can voice their values in the workplace, providing the opportunity to script and practice this voice in front of their peers. GVV is free to educators.

The GVV curriculum can help transform the foundational assumptions upon which the teaching of business ethics is based, and, more importantly, to equip future business leaders to not only know what is right – but how to make it happen.

Filed in: Accompanying leaders in their transformation
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