Accountability – what happens when theory doesn’t meet practice? See this week’s research tidbits.
Managing without blame
This article explores the concept of blame in organisations. Existing work suggests that ‘no-blame’ approaches (or cultures) may be conducive to organisational learning and may foster innovation. However, both the apparently strong public appetite for blaming, and research into no-blame approaches, suggest that wider application of ‘no-blame’ in organisations may not be straightforward.
The article explores the contribution of the rich philosophical literature on blame to this debate, and considers the implications of philosophical ideas for the no-blame idea. In doing so, it identifies conceptual and practical issues, sheds light on why the benefits of ‘no-blame’ may be difficult to realise, and offers the basis for an alternative approach.
The article also contributes by providing foundations for future research, and identifies some fruitful lines of enquiry.
Read this Open Access article for free online
Ben Lupton and Richard Warren. 2018. Managing Without Blame? Insights from the Philosophy of Blame.
Journal of Business Ethics, 152(1), 41–52.
Responsibility and accountability for the Financial Crisis (2007–2010)
This article takes the 2008–2010 financial crisis as a case study to explore the tension between responsibility and accountability in complex crises. Olivia Nicol analyses the patterns of attribution and assumption of responsibility of thirty-three bankers in Wall Street, interviewed from fall 2008 to summer 2010.
First, she shows that responsibility for complex failures cannot be easily attributed or assumed: responsibility becomes diluted within the collective. Actors can only assume collective responsibility, recognizing that they belong to an institution at fault.
Second, Olivia Nicol shows that blaming is a social process that should be examined contextually, relationally, and dynamically. She builds on sociological theories to depart from the normative focus of philosophers, and the cognitive focus of psychologists, who have dominated the study of responsibility so far.
Olivia Nicol. 2018. No Body to Kick, No Soul to Damn: Responsibility and Accountability for the Financial Crisis (2007–2010).
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(1), 101–114.
The business of boycotting: Having your chicken and eating it too
We assume that there are certain causes that are morally wrong, worth speaking out against, and working to overcome, e.g., opposition to same sex marriage. This seems to suggest that we should also be boycotting certain businesses; particularly those whose owners advocate such views.
Ideally, for the boycotter, this will end up silencing certain views (political or otherwise), but this seems to cause two basic problems. First, it appears initially to be coercive, because it threatens the existence of the business. Second, it runs counter to the intuition that we should not force unpopular opinions out of the marketplace of ideas.
Boycotting is by its very nature a coercive act, and thus we have to carefully consider what types of actions may warrant this type of coercive action. In this paper, the authors argue that an organised boycott is justified if and only if the actions taken by the company have negative consequences that outweigh the negative outcome of the boycott.
Alan Tomhave and Mark Vopat. 2018. The Business of Boycotting: Having Your Chicken and Eating It Too.
Journal of Business Ethics, 152(1), 123–132.
Effects of anger and guilt on unethical behavior
Although emotion has become one of the most popular research areas within organisational scholarship, few studies have considered its connection with unethical behaviour.
Using dual-process theory, the authors expand on the rationalist perspective within the field of behavioural ethics by considering the process through which two discrete emotions, anger and guilt, influence unethical behaviour. Across two studies using different methodologies, results show that anger increases unethical behaviour whereas guilt reduces unethical behaviour.
These effects were mediated by impulsive and deliberative processing. Overall, the results shed light on distinct mechanisms through which emotions can influence unethical behaviour. Both theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Daphna Motro, Lisa D. Ordóñez, Andrea Pittarello and David T. Welsh. 2018. Investigating the Effects of Anger and Guilt on Unethical Behavior: A Dual-Process Approach.
Journal of Business Ethics, 152(1), 133–148.
Corporate codes of ethics, national culture and earnings discretion
This study examines the role of codes of ethics in reducing the extent to which managers act opportunistically in reporting earnings. Corporate codes of ethics, by clarifying the boundaries of ethical corporate behaviours and making relevant social norms more salient, have the potential to deter managers from engaging in opportunistic financial reporting practices.
In a sample of international companies, the quality of corporate codes of ethics is associated with higher earnings quality, i.e., lower discretionary accruals. The results are confirmed for a subsample of firms more likely to be engaging in opportunistic reporting behaviour, i.e., firms that just meet or beat analysts’ forecasts.
Further, codes of ethics play a greater role in reducing earnings management for firms in countries with weaker investor protection mechanisms. Results suggest that corporate codes of ethics can be a viable alternative to country-level investor protection mechanisms in curbing aggressive reporting behaviours.
Chu Chen, Giorgio Gotti, Tony Kang and Michael C. Wolfe. 2018. Corporate Codes of Ethics, National Culture, and Earnings Discretion: International Evidence.
Journal of Business Ethics, 151(1), 141–163.
A seminal work in the area of accountability
Bergsteiner, H. (2012). Accountability Theory Meets Accountability Practice. London: Emerald.
Whistleblowing and information ethics
This paper analyses whistleblowing from the perspective of Floridi’s information ethics (IE). Although there is a vast body of literature on whistleblowing using micro-ethical (egopoietic) or meso-ethical (sociopoietic) frameworks, whistleblowing has previously not been researched using a macro-ethical or ecopoietic framework.
This paper is the first to explicitly do so. Empirical research suggests whistleblowing is a process rather than a single decision and action. I argue this process evolves depending on how whistleblowing is facilitated (positively or negatively) throughout that process, i.e. responding to whistleblowers and providing information about whistleblowing activity.
The paper develops a typology of whistleblowing facilitation to complement Floridi’s IE. The findings suggest that for whistleblowing to be beneficial to the informational environment, facilitation must filter out untrue whistleblowing, and achieve closure with the whistleblower, especially when whistleblowing is mistaken or deliberately false. I also find that publishing information about whistleblowing activity can be beneficial for the informational environment, but only if all organisations or all regulators do so.
Wim Vandekerckhove. 2018. Whistleblowing and Information Ethics: Facilitation, Entropy, and Ecopoiesis.
Journal of Business Ethics, 152(1), 15–25.