“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Great advice, right? Just blend in. Don’t flout the local customs. Go along to get along. Who are you to judge?
Of course, every culture holds biases and indulges practices that may seem unfair at best and immoral at worst. Many times, the gap between belief and behavior is hardly an anomaly lurking below the surface. Eventually, your values are going to collide with that country’s values. Do you look away like a faux Roman? Do you work within the system to change? Do you withdraw altogether?
ARE WE DOING ENOUGH?
There are no easy answers to these questions, especially in commerce. What might be the right approach in one country could fail miserably in another. Some companies can leverage their weight to force social change. For example, Adidas has chosen transparency about their suppliers and contractors to better fight against child labor. In contrast, Google shuttered its Chinese operations in response to censorship – effectively withdrawing from the world’s largest marketplace to follow its “Don’t be evil” roots. Alas, both companies are multinationals with diverse revenue streams. Their decision-making framework is far different than players with limited resources or control over overseas partners.
Every day, international companies wrestle with ethical questions. There are always divergent views about whether to simply follow regulations – or adopt an alternative base that embraces larger ethical, environmental, and social concerns. Even with the latter, there is always the larger question hanging over organizations: Are we doing enough?
Such questions lie at the heart of Global Impact: Business Ethics, a course from the University of Illinois. Taught by Patricia Werhane, an icon in the field of business ethics, the course is designed to help businesses develop decision-making frameworks that both free students from Western assumptions about developing nations and adopt solutions that can be sustained over the long-term.
LEARNING HOW TO THINK…SO YOU KNOW HOW TO ACT
For Werhane, ethics and commerce are intertwined, particularly when companies operate overseas. The dimensions may include how to reduce environmental degradation in a host country – even when a firm’s activities fit within the confines of their host’s laws. It may also involve how to establish control processes that prevent companies from becoming part of culturally-sanctioned abuses like slave or child labor. In such situations, companies must sort out their obligations from their responsibilities, to recognize the opportunities, limitations, and tradeoffs involved so they can leverage more equitable practices.
Understanding this, Werhane has structured her course to teach students how to think. Through cases, videos, and lectures, the course will explore the issues and pressures faced by companies like Merck, Bayer, and Volkswagen; the questions and choices that they considered during the decision-making process; and the impact that their solution ultimately produced.
Yes, companies – and the people they employ – generally have the best of intentions. However, it is a matter of imagination – identifying potential abuses – and execution – taking clear and decisive action that set expectations – where companies often struggle. These are the biggest reasons why Global Ethics is both a timely and important course. “Business is a moral enterprise because it deals with people and affects people all of the time, Werhane notes in a 2011 interview. “Everything a company does affect people. That’s why teaching business ethics, to increase the awareness of that, is critical.
Ethics may headline February’s MOOCs offerings, but strategy dominates it. That starts with the University of Virginia, which has opened a new section of Foundations of Business Strategy, an introductory course taught by master teacher Michael Lenox that focuses on how to fit the moving pieces of an operation together into a purposely-functioning whole. “The cases are interesting and the final assignment is a great way to implement the topics that you will learn throughout the course (Five Forces, Capability Analysis, Competitors’ Dynamics, Environment Analysis, etc),” writes one student who completed the course in 2017.
STRATEGY AND MANAGEMENT AMONG TOP NEW OFFERINGS
Lenox’s colleague at Darden, Yael Grushka-Cockayne, also returns with Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management, which is designed to simplify the steps, strategies, and risks inherent to running largest projects. At the same time, Wharton is bringing back Creating a Team Culture of Continuous Learning, which looks at the best practices for developing training that sticks – and motivating employees to become more vested in their professional development.
That’s just the start. Wharton is also offering Fundamentals of Quantitative Modeling, a four week look at how to maximize the value of collected data in decision-making. Wharton takes a similar quantitative approach to operations with Operations Analytics, which looks at how analytics tools can be applied to forecasting and measuring operational variables like demand, stock, and transportation time. Marketing also get plenty of attention too with Kellogg’s Leadership Through Marketing, a look at how the digital revolution has re-shaped how marketing is done – and how the new rules can help students tap new markets and grow share.
To learn more about these courses — and many more — click on the links below.