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Morally Conflicted

So, I posited recently that homogeneity in moral confliction is a relatively good thing — with little emphasis on “good”. It struck me that, all other things being equal, it is better to have a group of people, for example employees, who are morally conflicted along the same dimensions than to have a group of people who are conflicted along different dimensions.

I don’t know why I think of these things…perhaps it is my mother’s side, or my father’s side, or a misformed gene or something.

Anyway, I believe that if I am a manager, I would rather have my employees struggling with the same moral dilemmas than to have them struggling with different moral dilemmas. Why? Well, I reason, that if they struggle with the same ethical issues, I can anticipate their responses to emerging situations and can develop appropriate policies and measurements to keep the employees “between the lines”.

And, I further reason, that less volatility in behaviorial response is a value creator (you just knew it had to be coming), since management can allocate resources to institutional productivity, rather than to “babysitting” a bunch of morally diverse employees.

Yep, my hypothesis leads to very politically incorrect responses, like hiring a workforce that is culturally and/or religiously homogenous.If all of the employees subscribe to the same moral standards and rules, it makes for a much easier job of managing them.

When I was in Japan, my boss told me that lying was not a matter of right or wrong, but a matter of improving the circumstances of the person to whom you were lying. I said nay. Lying is intrinsically wrong. He said, you are relying on your Christian theology in deducing this. In Japan, it is the outcome from a lie that determines whether the lieis good or bad.

So, if I am an American company with a Japanese subsidiary, how am I going to structure the rules of communication, let alone negotiation, between the entities, knowing the Japanese believe lying is a situationally OK and the Americans probably don’t?

A good start to understanding the ethical dilemmas that permeate your organizational culture is perhaps to understand the ethical lens through which your employees view the world. In what ways are they morally conflicted?

That is, what’s dangling from their hats?

2 comments (Add your own)

1. JEC wrote:
“less volatility in behavioral response is a value creator (you just knew it had to be coming), since management can allocate resources to institutional productivity, rather than to “babysitting” a bunch of morally diverse employees.”

I really appreciate this assertion, but I wonder if the opposite could also be true for inspiring creativity and ingenuity (even though the context of this blog post has to do with morality). You have spoken about the value added (economic moat) to the firm based on its managers, people, and corporate culture, so I guess it was interesting to read that homogeneity, of any kind, is ideal. Which would you say this influences more, the numerator or denominator?

“…knowing the Japanese believe lying is a situationally OK and the Americans probably don’t?”

This is also interesting. I would have thought it was the other way around, maybe my trust of the American corporate culture has been influenced by Liar’s Poker?

Thu, January 12, 2012 @ 4:46 AM

2. Tim Moffit wrote:
Jared, thanks for the comment and inquiry. The principle of homogeneity is a cornerstone of valuation theory. When things are alike, value is maximized because there is less noise in the pricing data. Thus, the denominator has less volatility and is, therefore, lower (and value is consequently higher).

Americans lie, but, because of their Judeo-Christian heritage, they believe it is wrong. The Japanese just don’t consider it a right-wrong issue. It could be either, but it really doesn’t matter. It is just a means to achieve a desired end, and if the desired outcome is realized, then a relationship, society or an institution has benefited thereby.

Thu, January 12, 2012 @ 4:47 AM

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