Some schools have taken a very theoretical approach to teaching ethics, which makes it difficult to connect ethics with day-to-day management concerns. An overly theoretical approach can be a problem in any discipline, but I think it’s been a particular problem in the ethics area. To get academic credibility requires a theoretical orientation, but to get student and practitioner credibility requires a practical orientation. Merging the two is very challenging, and it can’t happen overnight.
But I do think we’re at a crucial moment now. In fact, here at Harvard Business School, we’re in the process of designing a new required MBA course that will cover issues of leadership, values, and corporate accountability. For a number of years, we have had a very successful nine-session module on leadership, values, and decision making, but this will be the first time we’ve had a full-length course in the core curriculum. Our challenge is to build a strong course so that research and teaching in this area become institutionalized rather than drifting back to the margin.
S+B: What will prevent these sorts of courses from drifting back outside the core?
PAINE: The central challenge at this point is faculty acceptance. For that, you need a research program that addresses important business issues and that other faculty respect. And you have to develop career paths for young academics. Unless you can attract, develop, and offer tenure to people in this area, it cannot become institutionalized.
S+B: What’s next on your research and teaching agenda?
PAINE: I’m planning to look more deeply at global business standards and cross-cultural value conflicts. In Value Shift, I talk about an emerging set of global standards for business. I want to explore and test this idea further. I also have in mind a book on cross-cultural dilemmas of management.
Reprint No. 03210
Ann Graham, Ann Graham is deputy editor of strategy+business.