THE international corporate world is agonising over issues of governance and ethical behaviour just as the Abdullah Badawi administration is making corruption a priority agenda for the Malaysian nation. From time to time, once powerful organisations like Enron and WorldCom hog the limelight as pariahs of corporate malfeasance.
The expected response has been the tightening of laws and regulations as well as to allocate more resources for enforcement. The assumption is that evil lurks and surveillance is the answer. This is not the best response to unethical conduct.
Unfortunately, ethical behaviour cannot be legislated for by either Government or by organisations.
The more effective way of producing better behaviour is through the inculcation of noble values of integrity and respect for others.
Ideally, character formation should have been developed from young, at home, and in school. But with rapid modernisation, much of holistic education has been sacrificed in favour of materialistic achievements.
Back to basics
Another route that has been taken by some organisations is not so much to impose sanction on its employees and staff for unethical behaviour as to re-educate them to be more decent human beings. With change and competition, the survival and growth of corporations depend very much on the bottom line.
Managers and executives learn quickly that performance is measured by financial targets. Often, they also learn that how they obtained their objectives is less important. It is therefore expected that over the years they would have travelled along a road that is narrow and blinkered on financial returns.
The re-education of managers is the in thing for many responsible organisations, particularly in the US. The objective is to renew in managers the human spirit and the search for meaning.
Indeed, there is growing literature that focuses on the soul of management, very different and distinct from previous literature that had focused on the science of management.
The belief is that knowledge and skills are now less important than attitude and motivation. If we are renewed with purpose and this is identified with the mission of the organisation, there will be more passion for the job.
Conversely, without zeal no amount of knowledge and competency will deliver the best outcome.
Much of human renewal is predicated on the premise that we subscribe to universal values, and that we are governed by a set of principles of human conduct.
This is the essence of most religions which preach love, respect, honesty, kindness, sacrifice and acceptance of others. These human attributes cannot be taught overnight. They have to be learned through intellectual discussion, emotional acceptance and spiritual commitment.
The renewal process
There is first a time constraint as managers and executives cannot be away from their workstations for too long. However, most organisations can free their executive staff to devote three full days to the re-education exercise.
If the exercise is well conceived and managed, three days should be sufficient to renew participants with the human spirit of compassion.
The process has three defined phases. First is acquaintance with the wisdom of the ages as participants read, discuss and understand the philosophic concerns of influential people such as Plato and Confucius.
Second is an appreciation and understanding of contemporary concerns.
Third is our own acceptance of the things that we can do to make the difference and our commitment to the effort.
This is a journey along the road less travelled. It provides the much needed opportunity for harassed managers and executives to think and reflect on who they are, where they come from and where they intend to go.
The modern corporation is now more open to scrutiny not only for financial performance, but also for its citizenship. It is now not only judged for its earnings growth and for its market price, but also for its social responsibility and its contribution to the welfare of all its stakeholders. Human renewal of its management will help to coincide the beliefs of the organisation with the personal values of key employees.
A fundamental benefit of the renewal exercise is also the spin-off of a more integrated management team, committed to shared values and enthused to transform their organisation into one that is respected for its social consciousness.
Dr Tarcisius Chin is CEO of De La Salle Institute, Executive Secretary of the Asian Association of Management Organisations, and Adjunct Professor of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and Universiti Utara Malaysia.
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