By Professor Melissa Beran Samuelson
As a business ethics professor, nothing annoys me more than ethics taught as a system of rules that students and business leaders must follow. In fact, what draws me to the field is challenge of the topic, the ambiguity of finding your own path to deal with the practical challenges faced both personally and in business.
This past week I attended the first Global Faculty conference on Giving Voice to Values. This conference was the best I have ever attended on teaching ethics and gave great practical attention to empowering (NOT instructing) people to live their values through their business.
When we are in an ethical dilemma, we often know what the right thing to do is, but the trouble is being able to effectively act on our values. Instead, we often work out our alternatives backwards, looking for what we think will give us the best outcome and then rationalizing the behavior. Giving Voice to Values (GVV) turns this thinking around, focusing on developing tools (enablers) that allow us to expand those alternatives while also recognizing and breaking down barriers that disable or block our tendency to act with integrity.
My favorite thing about the Giving Voice to Values philosophy is that it works for anyone, working in any corporate environment, in cultures around the world. The challenges we face in ethical behavior are often embedded in context: our industry, workplace, laws, culture, values, and even individual personalities. GVV allows us to develop a personal strategy for dealing with the individual challenges we might face so that we can do what is right, regardless of the context.
The conference was at Babson University and is rooted in the work of Mary Gentile, author of the book Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right. I’ve met Mary on a couple of occasions and I’m very excited about the growth of Giving Voice to Values and I highly recommend her very readable book to anyone looking for more effective ways to break down the barriers to ethical business practices faced around the world.
Melissa Beran Samuelson, ABT is a clinical professor at the Walker Center for Global Entrepreneurship at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her research focuses on enhancing effectiveness of microfinance programs. She teaches business ethics and sustainability in the Entrepreneurship program in addition to a course on Microfinance and Microenterprise in India. She oversees programs that enhancing entrepreneurship capacity in emerging economies.