Beyond Yourself: Moving Management from Amoral to Moral

Editor’s Note:  This post was excerpted from the Center for Responsible Business.

By Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business

The holidays have the great potential to bring out the best between friends and strangers alike. During the holiday season, I often witness expressions of goodwill between people – whether they know one another or not. This makes me feel good and inspires me to attempt to do some good in this world.

I am not alone. Irrespective of whether one identifies with a particular religious creed, the vast majority of us look favorably upon individuals who consider others and attempt to do something (however small it may be) to improve the well-being of other people. It makes us feel good to see acts of kindness because of that wonderful human emotion of empathy. (Empathy helps to connect our self-interest with the interests of others. I wrote a little about the importance of empathy in my previous blog post.)

Considering the well-being of others and taking action to improve the well-being of others is summed up concisely in the Berkeley-Haas defining principle of BEYOND YOURSELF.

In a classic article, “In Search of the Moral Manager,” the legendary CSR scholar Archie Carroll hypothesizes proportions of managers who do, and do not, think beyond themselves. Carroll roots his thinking “based on reports of management behavior, studies of ethics, and experience in teaching ethics in executive development programs.”
In sum, Carroll asserts that the vast majority of managers behave “immorally” or “amorally” – which is to say the majority of managers do not think beyond themselves.

strand image amoral 1

In defining immoral managers, Carroll states the underlying motivation of these managers is selfishness whereby “management cares only about itself or the company’s gains.” In defining amoral managers, Carroll asserts such managers may be well-intentioned but effectively behave selfishly because “impact on others is not considered.” To illustrate his hypothesis, Carroll draws a bell curve distribution and labels the tail to the far-left as “Immoral Managers” and the big fat middle of the bell curve is labeled “Amoral Managers.”

While the words immoral and amoral are often used interchangeably in common speak, Carroll takes care to distinguish. Whereas immoral managers choose to behave in a selfish manner (and feel justified in doing so), Carroll claims that amoral managers lack a degree of ethical perception and moral awareness – and may be “morally careless.” In other words, amoral managers go with the flow and do not necessarily question the status quo. Given that the dominant narrative of business has traditionally been that the purpose of business is to make profits, amoral managers will effectively act in a manner similar to immoral managers.

I would like to introduce a slightly more nuanced view to the important discussion teed up by Professor Carroll. Each of us is a complex being with the capacity to behave (using Carroll’s terms) immorally, amorally, and morally throughout any given day. This means that any given manager may bounce around between these categories everyday depending upon the degree to which they consider the well-being of others while making different decisions.
I propose to adapt Carroll’s framework to consider responses by business people on an issue by issue basis. In the forthcoming textbook titled “Corporate Social Responsibility” due out in January 2015, I authored the chapter “CSR and Leadership” in which I introduce this adaptation illustrated by a bell-curve distribution in which businesspeople respond to a particular issue with “don’t care” (akin to Carroll’s immoral), “unaware” (akin to Carroll’s amoral), and “aware and care” (akin to Carroll’s moral).

strand image amoral 2

I feel this nuanced view is important because a manager cannot be aware of every single stakeholder who could be affected by a decision that he or she takes. There are simply too many issues and too many stakeholders. This is particularly the case for managers of large, multinational corporations where stakeholders are spread throughout the world.

What is most important is that managers are “aware and care” where their decisions can have the greatest impact on their stakeholders. To achieve this “aware and care” state for the most material issues, managers must become adept at performing materiality assessments to identify the most relevant issues and associated stakeholders impacted by their decisions.

At the core of good material assessments is the asking of questions to highlight issues and stakeholders who may have otherwise gone unknown. For those managers who tend to think beyond themselves, this is an ongoing exercise.

On its surface, Carroll’s assertion that the majority of managers do not think beyond themselves may seem disheartening. However, given that the big fat middle of the distribution are managers who are simply unaware of their impacts on others – there is hope. We can help to shift more managers from “unaware” toward “aware and care” for issues that matter by working to usher in a new narrative of business where considering the well-being of others becomes part of the mainstream management thinking. In this view, profits become the byproduct of a well-run business – and not its ultimate purpose.

The Berkeley-Haas defining principle of Beyond Yourself is a wonderful concept to help achieve this. This principle also helps to set apart Berkeley-Haas business students. But thinking beyond yourself need not only be for students at the Haas School of Business – and thinking beyond yourself need not only be for the holidays.

We invite all people from the business community to challenge the dominant narrative of business and usher in a new era where sustainable and responsible business becomes the mainstream. Together, let us make the principle of thinking beyond yourself a year-round mode of thinking throughout the business community.

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