When Ethical Tones at the Top Conflict: Adapting Priority Rules to Reconcile Conflicting Tones

Business Ethics Quarterly 25 (4):559-582 (2015)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT:While tone at the top is widely regarded as an important predictor of ethical behavior in organizations, we argue that recent research overlooks the various conflicting ethical tones present in many multi-organizational work settings. Further, we propose that the resolution processes promulgated in many firms and professional associations to reconcile this conflict reinforce the tone at the bottom or a tone at the top of the employee’s organization, and that both of these approaches can conflict with the tone at the top of other important organizations such as professional and regulatory organizations. Here we adapt Integrative Social Contract Theory’s priority rules to propose a multi-tone reconciliation process which prioritizes conflicting ethical tones based upon features of the organization and the effects on society. Using three contextualizations, we demonstrate the effectiveness of the multi-tone reconciliation process over current processes. We conclude with recommendations for future research and implications for practice.

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