In today’s business and personal world, ethical decisions are made on a daily basis. We make our decisions based on the company as well as our personal ground rules. Ethic is a standard that tells us how we should behave. It is hard to learn and even harder to teach. In the video of a hit and run ethical decision case that we watched in class two weeks ago, a high educated woman faced ethical issue, acted unethically. The woman feared of deranging her reputation and image to her students, decided not to turn herself in after she hit a car and the driver died in that accident.
A good friend of her also faced ethical dilemma. The video relates to a very controversial topic, what is right and what is wrong when facing ethical decision making. Making an ethical decision is always hard for people, because it can affect their lives and the lives of others. Almost everyone has the experience of making an ethical decision; some choices we have made can be harmful to others. My experience of an ethical issue was back to when I was working for a bus company last summer. I had a part-time job at a Chinese bus company named Antai Tours Inc. in Center City of Philadelphia.
I was an office assistant and my responsibility was mainly assisting the business owners to communicate with the government, Department of Transportation and the drivers. My working experience with Antai is interesting and I experienced the transforming of the newly formed organization under the effect of ethical influences. Antai Tours Inc. was only a two years old company with about 30 drivers. The drivers’ responsibilities are driving buses to New York or Washington DC and come back. First couple days of working, I’d noticed that the drivers rarely communicated with other drivers or the management.
I believed that it was mainly because the drivers had to work 10 to 12 hours a day and 6 days in a week; they are busy and exhausted all the time. Through a few conversation later working in the company, I had been told what they tend to do was driving buses to terminals to pick up passengers and then go to different destinations. I conclude that the only thing they interested is how fast they can drive in order to finish the day earlier. Summer is always a busy season for the company. Because of the high volume of passengers and hot weather, our buses had a lot of different issues while running on the highway every day.
It was very common to hear the news of a bus broke down; had flat tires in the middle of highway or stopped randomly by police officers. During the month of July, we had gotten about 75 tickets for different reasons, such as lack of required documents for buses, speeding and malfunction in buses. The company was experiencing difficulty because of the extremely high cost from the government. At the beginning of August, those drivers got blamed for all the extra expenses from the employer. I helped some drivers to set up meetings with the employer for discussing their concerns.
What we found was mainly because of the lack of communication and careless. However, the employer believed that it was because every driver was selfish for their hours. Even if a driver had found out something wrong with the bus or certain document was missing, he most likely wouldn’t even mention it to anyone. As long as he was able to drive this bus in the next two to three hours to destination, these potential problems would be passed to the next driver. Additionally, we did not have a performance evaluation system.
Therefore, they only considered their job responsibility is picking up and driving. Everyone thought he doesn’t need to care about anything besides that. On a very late Friday night, a driver made the last run from New York back to Philadelphia. I was about to leave. On the way walking out from the station, I saw a driver threw some envelope sized paper into a trash can. Some blue prints on the paper had caught my eyes. I walked up to the trash can and saw there were two tickets inside the trash can. That driver was throwing away the violation tickets!
I was stunned and did not know whether I should pick them up and give to the company or just pretend not seeing anything. I am friend with the driver and understand that he will got blamed or even fired if I report him, plus I will probably lose that friend. However, if I don’t do anything, the company will suffer more than the cost of the tickets. I did not take a second thought, picked up the tickets and left them in the office. The stakeholders involved in this transformation should be the drivers, business owner as well as the customers.
By doing the right thing, the drivers and owners are able to better accomplish their contracts with customers without having any unexpected issues. By choosing the ethical decision, the drivers and owners will be able to achieve a common good for the company. What we did was the right outcome which was fair and benefited to all the stakeholders. The wrong outcome could be the drivers keep performing in their “selfish” way and only caring about finishing own duties regardless of whatever it takes, or the owners do not care about any issues about the drivers as long as the business is making profit.
The wrong outcome seems like a better way because it makes more profits in a short term. However, in a long term perspective, the wrong outcome will easily bring the whole business down because everyone only cares about himself/herself. There is no room for growth or operation but selfish. The ethical principal we adopted should be close to the individualism / Egoism approach because the biggest argument between drivers and owners were is it worth to sacrifice their individual interest in order to benefit all the stakeholders.
In this situation, this company made the right choice where a right culture was built and it also in long term satisfies every stakeholder’s ego needs as well. The biases we had and conquered was the discrimination between races and employees from different home towns although most of them are all from China. About 75% of the employees were from a same town on the south east coast of China. Therefore, at the beginning those employees were trying separate themselves from other employees and only “watch each other’s back”.
The owner later found out that the company was divided into few parties and it will be harmful for building an ethical culture. They had to fire few of the “tough” guys and establish examples for the rest of the group. After this, I suggested to set up different working groups to facilitate our safety program by mixing employees with different origins. The outcome proved us that in this way it is better for eliminating biases as well as build a culture for empowered team work. The following weeks, we started developing a safety program for drivers in order to reduce our bus operation issues.
Every driver is responsible to conduct pre and post trip inspections. After a trip, he is requested to pass their inspection reports and make comments to the next drivers if it’s necessary. Whenever a bus had some potential issues or some documents were missing, we would notice it as soon as the driver reported to us. On the management side, the company started considering the drivers as part of the stakeholders instead of simply calculating profits every day. The employer also started to plan a reduction of hours for drivers, set up performance evaluation system and link to the safety program.
The employer was also willing to provide incentives to drivers who did the right thing for this company. By the end of August, the number of our safety and operation issues was reduced from 75 to 10. The outcome was amazing to people; and it was an incentive to everyone. Although we still have a lot of different issues from the internal, I believe this is a breakthrough for both the drivers and owners. This is an uncommon situation where an ethical decision been made and implemented in a Chinese family owned mid-size business.
The actions that our organization took were setting up safety programs, developing a suitable performance evaluation system, meeting with drivers to encourage drivers to make their own decisions and reducing hours and duties for them. The owners were inspired by drivers and decided to change the traditional Chinese family owned business model. The owners believe that enabling certain level of empowerment to drivers is better for drivers to make ethical decision by themselves. Antai Tours Inc. transformed from a command and control organization to an ethical and complex adapted organization.
If we apply this transformation to Kohlberg’s levels of moral development, we can easily discover the difference during the period. At the beginning of July, the drivers and the business owners only cared about their own benefits. This was the Pre-conventional Level 1. The employees only follow rules to avoid punishment. Their daily goal was accomplish every day’s task. On the other hand, business owners were making management decision only for their sake as well. Starting at the second week of August, after the meetings and discussions, we started to develop an empowered safety program for drivers to act voluntarily.
During this period, we were moving from level 1 to conventional level 2. While the implementing of the program, the drivers begin to care about expectations of others. They not only fulfill the duties they were assigned in a daily basis, but also accomplish their obligations in our organization social system. The management was trying to encourage drivers to make proper decisions by dividing them into work groups. By the ending of August, our organization was on the trend of transforming from level 2 to level 3 at the postconventional level.
The empowerment ensured drivers to self-choose whatever they believe is the right choice. The drivers participate fully in this transformation. An ethical decision may interrupt your life, may be harmful to someone you care about. It is hard to make a decision that is harmful but ethical; however, a personal ethical code is always hiding in everyone’s mind. No person with a strong character lives without such code. My experience of facing those ethical issues, I have started developing my personal ethical code.
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