A Conceptual Model of Corporate Moral Development

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A Conceptual Model of Corporate Moral Development

R. Eric Reidenbach Donald P. Robin

ABSTRACT: The conceptual model presented in this article argues that corporations exhibit specificbehaviors that signal their true level of moral development. Accordingly, the authors identify five levels of moral development and discuss the dynamics that move corporations from one level to another. Examples of corporate behavior which are indicative of specific stages of moral development are offered.

their particular stage of moral development. Such a typology is useful for better understanding the dynamics that contribute to ethical decision making.

T h e role of corporate culture in moral

development
The moral development of a corporation is determined by the organizafon's culture and, in reciprocal fashion, helps define that culture. In essence, it is the organization's culture that undergoes moral development. Among the array of definitions of corporate culture are those that focus on the shared values and beliefs of organizational members (e.g., Sathe, 1985; Deal and Kennedy, 1982), specifically, beliefs about what works within an organization, and values about preferred end states and the instrumental approaches used to reach them. Among the constellation of beliefs and values that comprise an organization's culture are those that speak to its beliefs and values about what is right and what is wrong. This is the focus of this article. The principal sources for cultural beliefs and values are from (1) individual organizational members, especially top management (e.g., Schein, 1983; Wiener, 1988), and (2) the reinforcing effect of the organization's success in problem solving and achieving objectives (e.g., Schwartz and Davis, 1981; Sathe, 1985). Central to this latter source is the organization's selection of a mission from which the more specific objectives and reward systems flow. One mission of profit-making organizations is economic. However, society, with increasing concern and concomitant pressures, is also demanding that they achieve certain social goals. The moral development of a corporation can be classified according to

The recent and continuing revelations concerning the ethical wrongdoing of corporate America have occasioned a studied examination of the dynamics of ethical decision making in business. Several noteworthy effors, particularly those by Trevino (1986) and Ferrell and Gresham (1985), have attempted to model the ethical decision making process in organizations. The Trevino model relies heavily on the idea that an integral part of the ethical decision making process involves the individual's stage of moral development interacting with, among other factors, the organization's culture. It is this complex admixture of individual moral development and corporate culture which leads to the proposition that, just as individuals can be classified into a stage of moral development, so too can organizations. In other words, corporations can be classified according to

R. Eric Reidenbach is Professor of Marketing and Director of the Centerfor Business Development and Research at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has written extensively on business and marketingethics. Donald P. Robin, Professor of Business Ethics and Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern Mississippi, is coauthor with R. Eric Reidenbach of two recent books on business ethics with Prentice-Hall. He is a frequent lecturer on business ethics and is the author of severaIarticleson the subject.

.Journal ofBusiness Ethics 1O:273--284, 1991. © 1991 KluwerAcademic Publishers.Printed in the Netherlands.

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R. E. Reidenbach and D. P. Robin Five stages comprise the model. Each stage is given a label based upon the types of behavior or organizations that are classified within that stage. This produced the following classificatory schemata: the amoral organization; the legalistic organization; the responsive...
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