Marriott School equips students with ethics tool belt

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It’s just business.

Protecting the economy from the ill effects of bad business means it’s time for a new business model and a new generation of ethics, beginning business students’ educations. That’s why BYU’s Marriott School is actively preparing students to face ethical issues.

When business students graduate and begin to face the real world, those without a strong ethical backbone often get swept up in the storm of workplace pressure.The Marriott School recognizes that business students need ethics instilled into them long before they are ever put in a tough position.

According to Jeffery Thompson, associate public management professor at the Marriott School, there are many serious ethical pressures aspiring business professionals face early in their careers, including inflating or sharing confidential information and hiring or firing decisions where friends of family are concerned.

“We are pretty unique among business schools in that we have a required ethics course in every program in the Tanner Building,” Thompson said. “All of the ethics classes we teach are based on an ‘ethics toolkit’ that arms students with not only principles but also language they can use when they need to talk about ethically challenging issues.”

Many business leaders agree that building a better generation of business ethics is a necessity to building a better economy. According to Thompson, when a business makes consumers and partners unable to trust them through unethical actions, that business becomes unsustainable.

“Anything that undermines that trust tears away at the fabric of business,” Thompson said. “Perhaps the most profound example of this relationship is the fact that government corruption is the leading predictor for stalled economies in the developing world.”

Business professionals need to be wary of all the ways the fabric can fray. According to Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunse in the Harvard Business Review, many of the biggest barriers to an ethical business stem from allowing others to make unethical decisions for a variety of reasons.

Turning a blind eye, letting small decisions slip and setting goals that encourage unethical behavior are all ways companies unwittingly create unethical corporate structures, according to Bazerman and Tenbrunse.

Thompson said making students sensitive to issues that might catch them off guard or appear in the culture around them is one of the ways the Marriott School tries to prepare business students for the challenges they might face.

Recent BYU experience management grad Kat Roemer said one of the most concerning ethical dilemmas to her would be a situation in which she needs to report the wrongdoing of a supervisor.

However, she feels that the Marriott School helped give her skills she could apply in her work with the National Association of College and University Residence Halls Inc.

“I have learned how to stand up for myself in a professional manner,” Roemer said. “The Marriott School taught me what it means to be a professional while still having morals.”

Thompson said today’s growing world of fluid business environments presents changing ethical problems for businesses.

“I don’t think people are less ethical now than they used to be, but I think our society is more complex,” Thompson said. “The increasing access to instant information creates a whole new realm of ethical issues related to privacy, transparency and protecting confidential information.”

As these issues develop and evolve, ethical education in business schools needs to develop as well to produce a better future for business.

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