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CULTURAL FACTORS AND UNETHICAL BEHAVIOR An organization socializes people. It subtly conveys to members that certain actions are acceptable, even though they are illegal. For instance, when executives at General Electric, Westinghouse, and other manufacturers of heavy electrical equipment illegally conspired to set prices in the early 1960’s, the defendants invariably testified that when they came new to their jobs they found price fixing to be an established way of life, and simply entered into it as they did into other aspects of their job. One GE manager noted that every one of his bosses had directed him to meet with the competition: “It had become so common and had gone on for so many years that I think we lost sight of the fact that it was illegal.” The strength of an organization’s culture has an influence on the ethical behavior of its managers. A strong culture will exert more influence on the ethical behavior of its managers. A strong culture will exert more influence on managers than a weak one. If the culture is strong and supports high ethical standards, it should have a very powerful positive influence on a manager’s ethical behavior. However, in a weak culture, managers are more likely to rely on sub-culture norms to guide their behavior. So work groups and departmental standards will more strongly influence ethical behavior in organizations that have weak overall cultures. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS It is also generally acknowledged that the content of a culture affects ethical behavior. 1. Assuming this is true, what would a culture look like that would shape high ethical standards? 2. What could top management do to strengthen that culture? 3. Do you think its possible for a manager with high ethical standards to uphold those standards in an organizational culture that tolerates, or even encourages, unethical practices?
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