Business Ethics in Business Schools

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Business Ethics in Business Schools

--By Krishna Khanal

A business school plays a critical role in effecting change in a society. Business school classrooms serve as a venue for rich discussions of ethical and social issues facing managers and others in organisational settings. We cannot undermine the role of the business school in imparting value-based business education to help students make ethical decisions based on sound principles. Students of business schools should be helped to acquire a clear knowledge of what is right and wrong, to analyse situations from an ethical point of view, and to make bold ethical decisions in vital areas.

The main motive of Business Ethics is to make students aware of the essence of social responsibility in their professional life. Although the job of instilling ethical values is generally considered to be the responsibility of parents, business schools have taken their share of the blame for the lack of ethical behaviour on the part of Nepali business. In Nepal, business schools are accused of doing less than they could to influence the character formation and ethical standards of both present and former students.

Today, MBA programmes in Nepal face intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, failing to instill norms of ethical behaviour—and even failing to lead graduates to good corporate jobs. These criticisms come not just from students, employers, and the media but also from deans of some of Nepal’s most prestigious business schools.

As long as we offer courses strictly as stand-alone affairs, with Ethics over here and Finance over there, we will continue to groom leaders inclined to perpetuate a siloed view of the world. We need to connect the dots between leadership, personal integrity, and everything else we teach, with an eye towards building organisations that have a “higher ambition”— pursuing economic as well as social values in ways that benefit not only investors but employees, customers, suppliers, and society at large.

We need to equip our students to become “Moral Architects,” to create environments that naturally lead people—themselves included—in the right direction. Being a moral architect can involve modest organisational changes (like shifting where people sign a document) to more complex ones (like introducing an ethical checklist for all important decisions, in the way that doctors and pilots use checklists to reduce errors and save lives). It also involves training students to know when it’s most valuable to remove a temptation in the first place (for example, designing organisations to minimise conflicts of interest).

The only way we’ll get our students to integrate their moral compasses with the practical tools of business we teach them is to incorporate the topic of Ethics throughout the curriculum. This will require the accounting, finance, and marketing professors to grasp the ethical blind spots inherent in their respective areas, and to appreciate and recognise approaches to lessening them. Professors, in other words, need to be moral architects.

It’s a high time we have Business Ethics as a full-fledged course in our MBA curriculum.

Krishna Khanal teaches business ethics to MBA students at King’s college and KUSOM.

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