Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ethics pledges: If it's good enough for Harvard....

A few weeks ago we wrote about the growing phenomenon of ethics pledges at business schools, and its likely impact on avoiding the kinds of ethical problems involved in the current financial crisis. Several people have now been pointing us to a recent article in the New York Times on an Ethics Oath instigated at Harvard Business School. As a voluntary, student-led initiative, this is pretty much in line with the vogue for pledges in the US that we discussed in the earlier posting. That it has happened at Harvard, however, appears to be news to the NYT, presumably because this is about as deep into the mainstream MBA establishment as you can get. The logic here being: if it's good enough for Harvard, it'll probably be good enough for any self-respecting business school.

Certainly the current financial problems have focused a few more minds on issues of ethics and responsibility. And as the NYT suggests, the new generation of MBA students tends to be interested in making a difference just as much as making a buck .... or at least some of them do. It is notable that despite the hoohaw about the Harvard Oath, less than a quarter of the graduating class actually signed it this year, so we are not exactly talking about a majority of students. Still, a sizeable minority represents something of a shift from a decade or so ago when these kinds of commitments would have been laughed out of the class at most big MBA schools. Ethics pledges like these may not be for everyone, ut they do signify how far things are changing ... and how far they still have to go before a serious commitment to management integrity goes mainstream.

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