Coercion, guidance and mercifulness: The different influences of ethics programs on decision-making

André Nijhof, Olaf Fisscher, Jan Kees Looise

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    The development of an ethics program is a method frequently used for organising responsible behaviour within organisations. For such a program, certain preconditions have to be created in the structure, culture and strategy. In this organisational context, managers have to take their decisions in a responsible way. This process of decision-making, embedded in an ethics program, is the main focus of this article. Ethics programs often influence decision-making in a formal way; certain norms and types of behaviour are formalised and controlled within the organisation. Subsequently, individual managers have to infer the meaning of responsible behaviour from the demands laid down in the ethics program. Such a formal ethics program has some important advantages but the dangers of such an approach are often ignored. This article discusses both the advantages and disadvantages of a formal ethics program and adds two alternative ways of stimulating responsible behaviour in the organisation. In a monological approach the reflections of the decision makers on their own values are central in differentiating between right and wrong. In a dialogical approach, the communications between decision makers and other stakeholders involved are the foundations for determining a responsible solution. Because each approach is appropriate for certain issues, a well-chosen combination is justified. Such an ethics program should be strict on certain issues but leave room for reflection and interaction on other issues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)33-42
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of business ethics
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


    • Code of conduct
    • Ethical decision-making
    • Ethics program
    • Indoctrination of employees
    • Resistance


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