#PandemicAndBeyond - Get ethically fit: exercise your judgement

13 November 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond, Communication & Engagement, Training

In the next blog of the series, Pandemic and Beyond: the ethical issues, Prof. Chris Cowton, IBE's Associate Director (Research) reflects on our recent dilemma series.

According to John Keats, Autumn is a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. More like a season of missed fun and major fretfulness this year, thanks to the pandemic. Nevertheless, in these trying times, I hope you enjoyed our recently completed season of six weekly ethical dilemmas – even if we had to go and give them a distinctly Covid flavour, in line with our current #PandemicAndBeyond theme. 

On the other hand, if you missed the dilemmas, head over to this page, where you can still access them. At the end of each scenario you can choose from three or four action options. The voting has now closed, but we’ve summarised the results of the polling, so you can compare your own choice with what others thought. 

We’ve also posted a recording of the webinar I chaired with Ram Goodimal CBE and Dr Amanda Bunten of GSK, in which we discussed three of the scenarios that generated the most varied responses. Ram and Amanda were able to provide lots of interesting insights, as I allowed them to roam more widely than the multiple choice possibilities.

I think this all adds up to a valuable resource. Please feel welcome to make use of it. The series has certainly reinforced my belief in the value of dilemmas, which the IBE often uses in its training. Scenarios like these provide a great opportunity to practise our thinking about ethical issues. The point is not to solve the problem at hand but to learn about problem-solving. This time, the journey really is more important than the destination. It’s all good practice, and they say practice makes perfect. OK, I’m not sure about perfection when it comes to ethics, but we can certainly get better. 

It would be great if you engaged personally with the dilemmas on our website. If you find them helpful, I would encourage you to share them for discussion with your colleagues. You don’t need to use the options at the end (though you can if you want). They were for the purposes of voting; you could just leave the dilemmas open-ended. You could also adapt them to your own situation, adding local detail or colour that would resonate with your team. Or, to make things really relevant, you could even write your own scenario. Our Good Practice Guide Developing and Using Business Ethics Scenarios provides advice on that. The crucial thing is that they get people talking about ethics.

Team conversations about dilemmas can be really powerful. Because they’re hypothetical, the dilemmas provide space for low-stakes conversations, but they give people something more concrete to focus on than, say, simply being reminded about your code of ethics or policies. In particular, they provide an opportunity to see how the contents of the code can be used and how it is helpful. As people discuss dilemmas, they learn from each other, see things in new ways and develop their ability to make ethical judgements appropriate to the organisation’s ethical values. Such exercises help colleagues develop their ethical competence or grow ‘ethical muscle’. And we know workouts are always more effective if you’ve got others to encourage you. So, now that the pandemic is closing gyms again, perhaps this is the exercise to turn to in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.


Professor Chris Cowton
Professor Chris Cowton

Associate Director (Research), IBE, c.cowton@ibe.org.uk

Following a long career of leadership, teaching and research in the higher education sector, Chris joined the IBE in 2019 with a remit to strengthen its widely respected applied research and thought leadership, and a specific role of further developing our engagement with the education sector. In pursuit of the IBE's mission to base its work on high quality, relevant research, he now also leads on our training and advisory services.

Chris Cowton is Emeritus Professor at the University of Huddersfield and Visiting Professor at Leeds University’s Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre. He was previously Professor of Accounting (1996-2016), Professor of Financial Ethics (2016-2019) and Dean of the Business School (2008-2016) at Huddersfield, having joined after ten years lecturing at the University of Oxford.

He is internationally recognised for his contributions to business ethics, especially his pioneering work on financial ethics.  In 2013 he was awarded the University of Huddersfield’s first DLitt (Doctor of Letters, a higher doctorate) in recognition of his contribution to the advancement of knowledge in business and financial ethics.

He is the author of more than 70 journal papers, has edited three books and has written many book chapters. He was Editor of the journal Business Ethics: A European Review for a decade (2004-2013).

He is also a visiting professor at University of the Basque Country, Bilbao (Spain), and has been a visiting professor at the University of Bergamo (Italy) and a member of the Ethics Standards Committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (2009-2018).

You can read Chris's extensive bibliography here

Discussion of ethics in public life, including business, often makes unhelpful sweeping generalisations that take us nowhere. ‘Politicians are only in it for themselves’, ‘businesses manipulate consumers’, etc. Such comments describe one end of a spectrum, perhaps, but they do a disservice to those who are trying to do so much better. The IBE plays a key role, in supporting high standards of business behaviour and I am delighted to use my research expertise to contribute to that mission.

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