By Omar Sofradzija
Business shouldn’t simply be about getting things done. Rather, it’s about doing the right things the right way, and for the right reasons.
Emphasizing that point is the purpose behind growing initiatives in ethical leadership being driven by the Broad College Business Law Group, a unit within the Department of Finance of the Eli Broad College of Business.
During the past two years, Professor Paulette Stenzel, coordinator for Business Law and Ethical Leadership, has been working on plans for a renewed and greater emphasis on ethics in business law classes. In 2018, that took the form of a new ethics curriculum in the spring and new class requirements that will take effect in the coming fall.
“Ethical dilemmas are part of our daily personal and professional lives. A renewed emphasis on ethics is absolutely crucial in today’s business world, as is evidenced by daily reminders of transgressions by corporate officials as reported by our news media,” Stenzel said.
“Recently and continuing into 2018, sexual harassment in the workplace is being taken more seriously than in the past. For example, commentator Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel was reported to have paid millions to various women to hide allegations of sexual harassment, and, subsequently, O’Reilly agreed to resign from his position,” Stenzel said. “Uber, a company used by many of our MSU students, has been accused of ignoring a culture of sexual harassment. Additionally, Uber is the subject of a criminal inquiry related to its use of a software designed to avoid being detected in places where it was operating illegally … The list goes on and on.”
Springtime ethics activities included an April visit to the Broad College by Catharyn Baird, CEO of EthicsGame, a trademarked curriculum to help students recognize core ethical frameworks; the strengths and weaknesses of their own ethical preferences; and to identify, navigate, and optimally resolve ethical tensions.
During Baird’s visit on April 2 and 4, she presented programs to a pair of classes. In GBL 460: International Business Law and Sustainability she guided students through “Whose Values? Whose Rules? Law and Ethics in International Business.” Then, in honors sections of GBL 295: Business Law and Ethics, she offered “With Eyes Wide Open: Hubris and Human Error.”
Subsequent discussions that Stenzel called “lively” helped students explore global problems as well as challenges here at MSU in the wake of Larry Nassar’s arrests and convictions.
Baird’s visit was a culmination of EthicsGame activities. During the spring 2018 semester, Stenzel’s honors sections of Business Law and Ethics piloted two components of EthicsGame.
To start, the Ethical Lens Inventory enabled students to identify their own value systems and to see the strengths and weaknesses of their own systems. Next, “Merger Madness” exercises helped students understand how their values compare to and contrast with those of others.
As a result, “students gain self-understanding: recognizing their own value sets as well as the weaknesses of their own value set. They also learn to recognize their own blind spots,” Stenzel said. “Moreover, they learn to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of value sets held by other individuals and gain greater respect for the perspectives of others, especially in an international setting.”
According to Stenzel, students have found the EthicsGame programs to be thought-provoking and excellent preparation for their prospective careers.
“I thought it was important when [Baird] discussed the need to create a foundation for self-knowledge. I now realize that I must establish my personal core values that will guide me in making the right decisions with my family, friends, and career,” said Jeremy Bricker, a supply chain management rising junior who took one of the honors sections of GBL 295 in the spring.
Lauren Stefforia, a rising senior in supply chain management and a teaching assistant for the same section, said “adapting management style to employees’ and colleagues’ ethics is critical: know who you are working with!”
Stenzel said her students “gained a great deal of self-knowledge. They have gained new recognition of and perspective on their own values. This has led them to think more deeply about how to navigate in a world in which friends, business colleagues, and others hold sets of values that are often in conflict with their own.”
With such recognition, students gain “an appreciation for the complexities of ethically-based decision-making,” she said. “Additionally, they have begun to explore ways to navigate the decision-making process that results from conflicting values in a business setting.”
“Concurrently, they have also gained an appreciation for how ethical failures are seldom the result of one ‘bad decision’ by one individual. For an individual, what seems to be a small step aside from an individual’s values leads to more such decisions, snowballing into major transgressions,” Stenzel said.
“On an institutional level, students began to see how blame for an ethical scandal is often the result of systemic failures,” she said. “For example, led by [Baird], students began to see how the (Larry) Nassar situation is the result of systemic failures within Michigan State University and beyond, including in the U.S. gymnastics community and the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
As a result of the successful pilot project in Stenzel’s classes, the business law group plans to move forward to more fully implement this program during fall 2018. EthicsGame materials will be completed by all students fulfilling their business law and ethical leadership requirement in the Broad College.
This coincides with a shift in requirements. In recent years, Broad College undergraduate students have been required to take GBL 295. Starting this fall, students will instead complete a junior/senior level course titled GBL 385: Business Law and Ethical Leadership, which integrates EthicsGame materials and, overall, increases learning about ethics.