APEC-Québec Conference on Ethical Decision-Making

14th Annual Conference of APEC-Québec, now called RÉOQ
The Challenges of Ethical Decision-Making in Organizations
6 June 2011, Château Laurier – Québec

On June 6, 2011 ethics practitioners met in Québec City to explore the challenges of ethical decision- making in organizations. The special guest speaker was Linda K. Treviño, Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics at Penn State University. She presented a wide-ranging review of her findings on the importance of organizational culture and leadership to create the proper grounding for ethical decision making. (A bibliography of works that Dr. Treviño referred to will be made available on the RÉOQ website at www.reoq.ca.)

Dr. Treviño explained how formal and informal systems need to be coherent and aligned to support ethical practices. A culture where obedience to rules is valued above all will undermine the likelihood that employees will feel comfortable to seek advice in resolving ethical dilemmas. On the other hand, leaders who demonstrate shared values through visible actions, who show that ethical behaviour is rewarded, and who encourage employees to voice their concerns about ethical issues, will help to transform the organizational culture in ways that support ethical decision making.

One of Dr. Treviño’s findings is that ethics codes, while necessary, contribute very little (statistically) to organizational outcomes such as improvements in ethical decision making. Integrating ethical dimensions in the performance review process is a more effective way to convey the importance of ethical standards for managerial accountability and performance.

Professor Lyne Langlois, of the Department of Industrial Relations at Université Laval, shared results of recent research she conducted with members of the Ontario Teachers’ College, where she tested the concept of Ethical Sensibility (ES). She proposed a definition of ES that combines three orientations to ethics that individuals can hold: an ethics of fairness; an ethics of care; and an ethics of critical thinking. This Ethical Sensibility goes beyond simply perceiving and understanding ethical issues that may present themselves. It encompasses an orientation toward social action, and the willingness to transform the work environment in ways that are congruent with the values of social justice.

Dr. Langlois also investigated the effectiveness of ethics training. She found that participants who developed self-awareness by completing an ethical profile assessment before participating in systematic training (regular modules over an extended period) were able to improve their Ethical Sensibility scores.  Her conclusion is that Ethical Sensibility is not only innate; it can be developed. Some productive approaches to do this are communities of practice, creating time/space for ethical dialogue, active listening, critical thinking and self-questioning, and more engaging training that requires learners to become agents of change in their organizations.

Diane Girard, the President of EPAC’s Quebec chapter, now called the Réseau d’éthique organisationnelle du Québec (RÉOQ), spoke about her doctoral research on ways that care for others (souci d’autrui) is integrated in managerial decision making in the financial sector. She concludes that care for others needs to become an organizational objective so that individual decision makers no longer see this quality to be at odds with strategic objectives of the organization, such as making a profit.

Organizational culture is an important component of the context referenced in making ethical choices because it sets behavioural expectations. As a result, organizational leaders should take more responsibility for the impact of the culture on individual employees facing ethical decisions in the workplace. Organizations can support the development of personal skills related to ethical decision making through training and especially through opportunities for ethical dialogue between employees and their managers.

The REOQ organizing committee arranged for a delicious lunch that created more opportunities for conversation around the table. There were additional roundtable exchanges in advance of panel discussions to identify key take-aways from the presentations, and to discuss key actions that could improve ethical decision making in our respective organizations. The panelists were:

  • Daniel Bureau, Bombardier Inc.
  • Diane Lelièvre, Revenu Québec
  • Delphine Roigt, CHUM Hôtel-Dieu
  • Denise Brosseau, Ordre des Administrateurs Agréés du Québec

Simultaneous interpretation was provided during all the plenary sessions.  At the end of the day, participants were treated to bubbly Quebec cider, which provided more fuel for conversation about common interests and opportunities for collaboration.

Prepared for EPAC by Sylvie Plante and reviewed by Ann Fraser and Cornelius von Baeyer


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