Business ethics – an organizational ”must-have”

Nowadays, the economic responsibility of business stands for a consistent challenge and pressure due to global competitiveness. Still, when fulfilling their economic responsibilities, businesses should consider simultaneously ethical responsibilities. These responsibilities consist of practices, behaviors, activities, policies that are not codified into laws, but are expected (in a positive sense) or prohibited (in a negative sense) by societal members. Also, ethical responsibilities cover a series of standards or expectations of behavior that reveal a constructive interest for what clients, employees, shareholders, the community, and other stakeholders perceive as right or fair.

At this level, consultant John Dalla Costa (cited in Carroll, 2000, p. 36) underlined in his work The Ethical Imperative that ethics is becoming step by step the central business issue of our time, afflicting corporate profits and credibility, as well as personal security and the sustainability of a global economy. A business manager has responsibilities for their workers, their customers, their shareholders, their competitors, laws, society and environment. In order to perform these duties, business people must make decisions within a moral framework and consequently the core of business ethics is to establish what one ought to be doing, when one is doing business.

An interesting consideration in this respect is brought to light by Solomon (1993, p. 36) who states that ethics in business practice does not necessarily come from the business schools that managers attend, but from some character traits – “virtues” that are acquired through socialization, but also due to the environment and culture organization in which the individual is formed as manager. The author mocks economics school graduates that become Wall Street financial officers whose activity is defined as “making money”. Once employed, young people will practice all the tricks learned in school and they will work to impress a manager, taking behavioral patterns valued in the company and then climb the ladder of the organization upon receipt of increasing salaries or bonuses. The author calls this phenomenon “abstract greed”. It is centered on money, around the desire to simply get rich, not to get anything related to it or to prove that you possess expertise, but just for the sake of being rich. It is the most important good feeling, more important than personal dignity or happiness.

Forms of work organization in European countries

Mako (2014) noted the asymmetry in the distribution of new forms of work organization among European states, especially between Western and South-Eastern countries.

The table below summarizes the distributions of work organization in the Eastern and Central European post-socialist countries in comparison with the EU-27 average.

 Frequencies of forms of work organization in the Post-Socialist Countries (%)



Discretionary Learning Lean Production Taylorism Traditional or simple Total
Bulgaria 20,6 27,2 32,7 19,5 100
Czech Republic 28,0 26,7 22,5 22,8 100
Estonia 40,7 33,4 11,2 14,7 100
Hungary 38,3 18,2 23,4 20,1 100
Lithuania 23,5 31,1 22,0 23,4 100
Latvia 33,4 34,5 17,1 15,0 100
Poland 33,3 32,6 18,9 15,2 100
Romania 24,1 33,4 27,6 14,9 100
Slovenia 34,9 32,1 16,7 16,3 100
Slovakia 27,2 21,0 33,8 18,0 100
EU-27 38,4 25,7 19,5 16,4 100

Source: Valeyre et al., 2009, p. 22.

 The Discretionary Learning (or Innovative) Organization is characterized by the overrepresentation of job features as autonomy in work, learning and problem solving, task complexity, assessments of the quality of work, autonomous teamwork. Lean Production forms of work organization (limited innovation capability) is characterized by the overrepresentation of both autonomous and non-autonomous teamwork, job rotation and multi-skilling; jobs include the self-assessment of quality as well as the indirect variable of just-in-time production, measured by demand-driven constraints on work pace. This type of work can be labeled “controlled autonomy”, reflecting the employers’ intention to “trade-off” direct control over the employee and the benefits of employee involvement in work related decisions. Taylorist forms of work organization (no need for innovation capability) characterizes the typical mass production job, including minimal autonomy in work with low task complexity along with weak learning possibilities; teamwork and job rotation are nearly at an average level. Traditional and simple structure version of the work organization includes working methods that are not essentially formalized, presenting difficulties in accurate description (Valeyre et al., cited in Mako, 2014, p. 2).

In Romania, the presence of “discretionary learning” organizations (with the strongest innovation capabilities) is below the EU average: 24,1% in our country versus 38,4% in the EU-27. Discretionary learning forms of work organization are least diffused in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Romania. The share of the less innovative lean production type is well above the European average: 33,4% in Romania versus 25,7% in the EU-27. Also the Taylorist form of work organization is above the average: 27,6% in Romania compared to 19,5% in EU-27.

Workplace innovation – a way to improve the working conditions

Workplace innovation has been recently defined as social innovation in organizations, as “the implementation of new and combined interventions in the fields of work organization, human resource management and supportive technologies” (Pot, 2011, p. 404). Other authors use relatively synonymous terms, such as organizational innovation (Armbruster et al., 2008; Lam, 2011; Mako, 2013; OECD, 2005) or high performance work practices (HPWPs) (Cox et al., 2012).

Workplace innovation includes aspects regarding work organization (job autonomy, self-managed teams, flexible working, integration of technology etc.), organizational structure and systems (transfer of decision-making to employees, fairness and equality, supporting employee initiative etc.), learning and development (high involvement innovation, staff learning and development, shared knowledge and experience etc.), workplace partnership (social dialogue, representative participation, involvement in change, openness and communication, integrating tacit and strategic knowledge etc.).

Unfortunately, workplace innovation is an underused resource for European private or public enterprises: the data showed that only 47% of European workers are involved in improving work organization or work processes in their department or enterprise, only 47% are consulted before targets for their work are set and of all workers, only 40% can influence the decisions that are important for their work. More, there are great differences between countries in the control that employees can exercise over their work tasks and their participation in organizational decision-making: the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) had the highest levels of involvement, while the Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain) and the East-South countries (Bulgaria and Romania) had particularly low levels (Totterdill et al., 2014).

Field researches conducted by Cox et al. (2012) in 13 European companies showed that employee motivation was improved by the workplace innovations which provided job enrichment, greater responsibilities and autonomy, skill variety and development, enhanced training, increased trust and organizational support,  enhanced job security,  opportunities for suggestions or challenge; but HPWPs that improved autonomy, task variety, flexibility and decision-making authority also increased job strain through increasing work pressure, workloads and work pace, despite efforts made by management to implement health and safety measures.

What is Control Anyway? Changing Perspectives for Survival in the Online Space

People have always been obsessed about control. One of the most important sociologists describing the notion of self, Goffman (1959), developed a dramaturgical model, emphasizing that individuals engage in performances in order to control (to some extent) other individuals` impressions of them. As such, individuals either give or give off expressions. That is, they either give out information about themselves intentionally (verbally, non-verbally, but usually controlled body language), or non-intentionally (body language and facial expressions which cannot be controlled).
Same thing happens in social media. An enthusiastic Social Media or Marketing Manager gives a compelling message, meant to attract thousands of shares and likes and pins and views, and the list goes on. Then, one segment of the public returns with unanticipated and negative feedback, throwing out accuses and complaints about controversial campaigns (some really interesting examples can be seen here).
With respect to the social dimension of social media, and considering the hype around online crisis situations and the focus on communication practitioner`s lack of control, I must say that control is overrated anyway. What ever happened to natural interaction and engagement? Is that too hard to achieve? Maybe holding back the focus on volume and bringing more strategic emphasis on quality could reframe the way control is viewed in the first place. Neither marketing, nor communication practitioners can control messages, or information disseminated through social media, especially considering the growing numbers of tech-savvy users, who are constantly updated on ways to potentially ruin an organization or public figure. But instead of fighting these limits, threats, disadvantages, risks etc., of social media efforts, how about promoting what symmetry is really all about: credibility, transparency, trust, taking responsibility for mistakes and genuine interest in publics` needs?

The Big Era. Or, simply, Big Data.

We live in BIG times. Big moments, Big results, Big problems, Big Macs, Big shots, Big fish, Big foot, Big fan, Big mentors, The next Big thing, Big data. Big deal! Or that`s how ignorance could play it. In fact, many scholars, sociologists, economists, computer scientists, CEOs, CFOs, CMOs and so on are arguing about the advantages of leveraging big data for a variety of purposes. But is this overwhelming wave really improve our existence and the way we process information? In particular, are organizations effectively and efficiently using the overflow of data for building intelligence in order to meet future socio-economical demands?

The large sets of data are too much for standard software to analyze and, as such, new, optimized systems developed for data integration, manipulation and processing are now starting to become mandatory. Data aggregation is particularly difficult especially in terms of acquiring significant connections between important pieces of information. Easily accessible information does not necessarily mean we can easily identify patterns leading to a specific useful direction, for example, in building competitive intelligence.

This is why companies must invest in new systems to effectively manage big data. And no, I am not referring to big companies like Google, eBay, LinkedIn, Facebook built around this concept from the very beginning. I am talking about traditional companies, which are now dealing with the merge of traditional information and communication systems with the new infrastructures that haven`t existed before.

Conclusion? Go BIG or Go Home!

Non multa, sed multum

           The more the merrier they say; but does it work the same for organizational communication? The grow in number, diversification and specialization of both old and new media brings along not only communication ‘wonderlands’, but also corollary vulnerabilities that many practitioners choose to minimize or ignore.  

            One of these ‘Trojan horse’ elements that many organizational actors pay too little attention to or just approach it with too much superficiality is what we can call the ‘overflowing’ trap. Briefly, it’s all about the strong temptation and desire for media omnipresence, one that has been limited (fortunately I would say) by financial constrains. We seem to be facing a general visibility ecstasy that keeps many PR and marketing people hypnotized by the ‘awareness’ and ‘share of voice’ mirage (and that only).

            But let’s not forget that media omnipresence requires time and money resources which, unfortunately for most of us mortals, are limited. Moreover, media omnipresence, whether old or new media (or both), is not enough to bring profit, loyalty or good reputation by itself. Thus, our ‘overflowing’ media visibility can easily turn into super-saturation for our publics and money waste from our budgets. We should re-evaluate the power of moderation and efficiency (good public segmentation and targeting included) when it comes to organizational communication, despite the media temptations, and remember that there are some principles like ‘Non multa, sed multum!’ that even new media Gods can’t change.

Developments of the Learning Organization theory

The learning organization was defined as “an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create the future. For such an organization, it is not enough merely to survive (…) adaptive learning must be joined with generative learning, learning that enhances the capacity to create” (Senge, 1990, 14). Senge proposes “five disciplines” for building a learning organization (Senge, 1990, 6-11): renounce to the old way of thinking (mental models), become committed to lifelong learning (personal mastery), gain the connection to the whole (systems thinking), share a common vision with all the team (shared vision), and work together for the achievement of the vision (team learning). The five elements were not new, but the model in which they were integrated was powerful enough to create a management orientation in North American area.

The initial theory was developed by other contributions. Lichtenstein (2000) proposed the term generative knowledge and insisted that all decision makers must move beyond a rational model of understanding to a transactional, open-minded and social model. Ratner (1997, 1-34) defined the learning organization as “one in which people at all levels are increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about.” Levine (2001) described the learning organization profile as being characterized by remembrance and learning, and using collective recording in work processes and decision-making, since learning is applied to produce or change strategies and procedures. Digenti (1998) explored the notion of learning community as a ground for building the learning organization, through: promoting socially responsible behaviors; visions and values; building cognitive skills inside the community. Thus, the organization could integrate the “whole self” of individuals in the organization. The concept of learning community was a step forward in defining larger social collective profiles; in some books appeared the concept “learning society”(as, for example, Raven and Stevenson, 2001).  In comparison with the learning organization, the learning community is a superior stage, because supposes a strong sense of identity and a high level of cohesion and trust.

Organizational Learning versus The Learning Organization: a comparison

In the general field of learning in organizations, confusion between Organizational Learning and Learning Organization is maintained and even intensified by several aspects. The two perspectives are often confused, because of the symmetry of terms. Second, “organizational learning” is used in many situations with the old technical meaning (reception and storage of information), which confuses more the receptors of studies. Third, the expression “learning organization” determined, for a segment of researchers, the idea that only educational organizations could be the subject of this orientation (assimilating in a wrong way the concept of learning organization with schools, universities or research centers).

From the two definitions cited before we can see that the spheres of the two concepts have something in common, but are not the same. Still, the two concepts and the scientific orientations need to be characterized after their main features.

The theoretical ground for OL is larger, providing more possibilities of development in the future). The evolution of theories in social sciences shows that an interdisciplinary ground is more nurturing for further development, compared to narrow and specialized paths. By the opposite, LO capacity to bring novelty of theory is limited to propose only related concepts (as the examples given above, learning community or evolving organization). The age of OL perspective is double than the age of LO, which proves also a greater capacity to survive and develop for the former perspective. And, if someone would evaluate the circulation between the two perspectives, would identify a traffic of ideas from OL to LO, but little traffic in the reverse direction.

Finally, the empirical field is not so generous in case of LO as intended by Peter Senge and his followers. On one hand, the percentage of studies in this school using original empirical data is under 50%. On the other hand, the application of the concept in the real organizational environment proved to be limited (questions were raised if “learning organizations” really exist or could be created in reality, following the various paths proposed by LO studies).

Collective learning as a concept

Organizational learning might be explained starting from individual learning, but it is distinct of the sum of the individual learning processes. Even if the individual learning is an important asset, the group functions as a whole with own capabilities and characteristics. Thus, organizational learning may be more (desirable situation) but also may be less than the sum of individual learning processes. For both situations we may compare two examples of organizational environments. For the former situation, the United States organizational environment is strongly oriented towards objectives and based on procedures (the system is stronger than individual competencies). For the latter situation, Romanian institutional environment is characterized of a lack of organizational objectives and evaluation criteria; the procedures are defensive and reactive, rather than proactive. The system’s malfunctions have as a consequence a lower level of organizational learning than the sum of individual’s learning (people competency is satisfactory, but is poorly used by the institutional system).