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City-Level Business Ethics

[Editor’s note: We at EthicalSystems.org have been so pleased to learn about the activities of the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance that we invited its executive director, Beverly Kracher, to write a guest blog post introducing the Alliance. Cities are indeed an important and usually overlooked level in the nested systems that one should look at when doing ethical systems design.]

Guest post by Beverly Kracher, PhD, the Robert B. Daugherty Endowed Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University and Executive Director and President of the Business Ethics Alliance.

Since its inception, the discipline of business ethics has focused on strategies to help business leaders, organizations, professional associations, industry groups, and nations. But there is a missing ingredient in this recipe for keeping ethics front-of-mind and grappling with major business issues. I call it city-level business ethics.

A city is more than a geographical location with people, buildings, and infrastructure. A city is a community. And a community is “a self-defined, self-circumscribed group of people who interact in the context of shared tasks, values, or goals and who are capable of establishing norms of ethical behavior for themselves” (Donaldson and Dunfee, 1994, p. 262).

“City-level business ethics” refers to the shared values, perceptions, and practices about what is morally right and good in business in a city. One of the causes of city-level shared values is density. Ethical ideas, indeed, any ideas, flow quickly over dense areas (Glaeser, 2000).

Business ethics advocates can and should use the power of the city to promote ethical business practices. City-level business ethics surpasses the reach of individual organizations and provides the ground by which business practitioners and businesses grow together and economies flourish. A common good, a greater good, results from city-level business ethics.

Omaha Business Ethics Alliance (http://businessethicsalliance.org)

The Business Ethics Alliance in Omaha, Nebraska, USA is a city-level business ethics initiative that is one of a kind. The Business Ethics Alliance (The Alliance) is a four-way partnership between Omaha business leaders, a lead university (Creighton University’s Heider College of Business), the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and the local Better Business Bureau. The Alliance delivers positive, practical business ethics education and leads in developing a climate of ethical excellence in the city of Omaha. Bringing together small, medium, and large organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, The Alliance delivers a set of signature programs to all drivers of ethics in the business community including business leaders, ethics and compliance officers, middle managers, rank and file employees, young professionals, entrepreneurs, college students, and even K-12 students. The Alliance is unique, not only in its comprehensiveness, but also its executive participation. At its annual Trustees meetings, over 150 C-level leaders gather to discuss ethics, leadership, capitalism, and democracy.

The Alliance identifies, articulates and communicates the Core Values of the Omaha business community. This project - using interviews and focus groups, through coding, values-classifications, and analysis - provides continuity for all Alliance programs. Just as core values create shared vision in an organization, the Omaha Core Values are the centerpiece around which business ethics discussions take place in Omaha and the reference for understanding how to deal with business ethics issues in the city.

Our core values are accountability, community responsibility, financial vitality, integrity, and moral courage.

City-level business ethics initiatives can be good for economic development.  Indeed, the President of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce has been asked twice within the last years to demonstrate to prospective companies that the city has low taxes, a good employee base, and strong ethics. The President was able to describe, in detail, the Omaha Core Values and the range of city-level business ethics programs available to employees in every level of the prospective organizations.

City-level business ethics initiatives are a missing component for enhancing the abilities of business people to keep values front-of-mind while grappling with major business issues. In these days of speed and high stress, we must provide the strongest climates we can to grow ethical business practices by championing city-level business ethics.