Organizational Governance and Ethical Systems: A Covenantal Approach to Building Trust

Journal of Business Ethics 58 (1-3):249-259 (2005)
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Abstract

. American businesses and corporate executives are faced with a serious problem the loss of public confidence. Public criticism, increased government controls, and growing expectations for improved financial performance and accountability have accompanied this decline in trust. Traditional approaches to corporate governance, typified by agency theory and stakeholder theory, have been expensive to direct and have focused on short-term profits and organizational systems that fail to achieve desired results. We explain why the organizational governance theories are fundamentally, inadequate to build trust. We advance a conceptual framework based on stewardship theory characterized by “covenantal relationships” and argue that design of governance mechanisms using a covenantal approach is more effective in building trust in organizations. A covenantal relationship is a specialized form of a relational contract between an employee and his or her organization. We argue that regardless of incentives and control mechanisms carefully designed through contractual mechanisms, in the absence of covenantal relationships it is extremely difficult to build trust within organizations. We propose that organizations are more likely to build trust – both at the organizational level and at the interpersonal level – when they create reinforcing and integrated systems that honor implied duties of “covenantal relationships.”.

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Cam Caldwell
Dixie College