The Future of Ethics Training for Business

A new book, co-edited by Professor Emeritus Jerry Goodstein and visionary Mary Gentile, heralds limitless potential for a widely used curriculum on values.

The responsibility of educating ethical corporate leaders and employees falls on business schools across the country. They strive to train people to abide by the social contract, act according to their values, and instill the desire in their employees to do the right thing. The challenge often is not getting people to distinguish right from wrong but empowering them to speak up and to act on their values.

Giving Voice to Values, a research-based curriculum that has been part of WSU Vancouver’s Carson College of Business for nearly 15 years, does just that. Jerry Goodstein, now professor emeritus of business at WSU Vancouver, brought it into his business ethics class shortly after its creation in 2007, and it is part of required ethics courses for all business majors. Claire Kamm Latham, associate professor of accounting, incorporates Giving Voice to Values in her junior- and senior-level accounting courses. WSU Vancouver was one of the pioneering schools to adopt Giving Voice to Values, or GVV.

GVV is used not only by business schools nationwide but also by more than 1,000 companies and nonprofits. Lockheed Martin was a pioneer, instilling the framework into its ethics awareness training. The CFA Institute offers it as an optional training for investment professionals. Latham and Jane Cote, professor emeritus of business, contributed a chapter to the book that discusses their efforts to lead GVV workshops for accounting professionals in the Vancouver/Portland area.

At Lockheed Martin, for example, the intent “was to shift the emphasis in ethics training … from ‘what’s wrong’ to ‘focusing on what can you as an individual do about it,’” Goodstein writes in a chapter in the book.

Gentile, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, developed Giving Voice to Values. The curriculum has expanded and matured to the point that Gentile and Goodstein agreed it is time for a comprehensive look at where the framework might go in the future. That led to a book, co-edited by Goodstein and Gentile, called “Giving Voice to Values: An Innovation and Impact Agenda,” to be published in July by Routledge. It is the most recent in a series of five books on GVV.

Giving Voice to Values “is very much action oriented,” Goodstein said. It isn’t a muckraking agenda to root out corruption. In a way, it might help head off corruption. It is about ordinary, decent people empowering each other to follow their best instincts. “Giving Voice to Values makes the assumption that the majority of people do want to do the right thing,” Goodstein said. “The question is how can you do that.”

Jerry Goodstein

GVV uses case studies of ethical challenges that might be faced in the workplace—witnessing sexual harassment, for example, dealing with a disruptive employee, or resisting the temptation to manipulate market research data when introducing a new product. Individuals are encouraged to consider how they want to respond, what they want to say and to whom, possible counterarguments, and to develop and rehearse “scripts” to help them take action.

The book is made up of essays from practitioners and leading experts in business ethics and the professions on the possibilities for sustaining its growth and success. These include the creation of new teaching materials, ways to reach different audiences worldwide, and ways GVV can act as a catalyst for organizational and societal change.

“The potential for GVV is tremendous,” Goodstein said, listing reasons why more universities and corporations might want to connect with GVV. One essay looks at the potential role digital tools and technologies could play in significantly increasing GVV’s future global reach and impact. There are possibilities for expansion into government, legal and healthcare settings, among others. 

And there is another step that could be emphasized to make GVV as effective as possible in maintaining an ethical workplace. In an essay about the listener’s perspective, Goodstein writes that more attention needs to be paid to listening to the message. There are two parties in a values conversation—the voicer, who delivers the message that something is wrong, and the listener, who receives it and, ideally, will act on it. That might be, for instance, a manager, a co-worker or an HR officer. GVV training might also emphasize how to adopt an open-minded listener’s perspective and develop good listening skills, pay attention to the issues being voiced, and learn how to respond in a way that safeguards the organization’s ethical culture.

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