Whether you are a ethical ostrich or a lesser-spotted CSR eagle, we can all agree that the effects of a playing fast and loose left us in a bit of a mess at the end of the last decade, the aftermath of which continues.
Tales from the City arrive as almost daily reminders of what happens when ethics goes out the window in favour of personal gain or big money deals. It is time we built an ethical foundation for UK business and that means instilling the importance of establishing, and delivering on, a contract between businesses, stakeholders, employees and society at large to put CSR at the forefront of the UK’s business agenda.
Our business schools have a crucial role to play here. To develop a new generation of leaders who possess a firm understanding of the effects of poor ethical decisions – and who understand that the way you reach an end point is just as important as getting there at all – ethics should not be taught as a periphery subject, it must be woven into the core of business curriculum. Teaching ethics and CSR as an optional add-on sends the message that it is okay to pick and choose when, how, or even if, ethically sound business practice is relevant. Business schools are producing future leaders – they are responsible for making sure these are leaders who can build a more stable, principled corporate climate.
Reassuringly, recent surveys have shown that students are recognising the need, and are eager for, more of a focus on CSR and ethics in MBA courses in particular. A survey of business alumni by the Association of MBAs (Amba) and Durham Business School showed that eight out of ten graduates said ethics had “become more important”, with a similar proportion of business schools agreeing that CSR needed to “underpin the actions of organisations”.
The survey also showed that – although on the whole students are satisfied with the content of their MBA – there was a need “for a greater emphasis on areas such as sustainability and CSR, as well as a wider coverage of most skills, to be heeded by the business school community”. Research of this kind is not only reassuring, but critical for the positive continual development of the MBA curriculum into areas of sustainability and ethics.
At the heart of learning about management and leadership should be the principle of doing ‘good’ business – “It is about moving from just teaching skills to teaching wisdom,” says Professor Paul Palmer, director of the Centre of Charity Effectiveness at City University’s Cass Business School. “Three to four years ago you might have got students complaining about having to take ethics courses.
“You don’t now.”