Challenges and Theories Used in Ethical Decision-Making

Subject: Decision Making
Pages: 6
Words: 1712
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: PhD


Making a decision especially in an organizational setting can prove to be challenging. This is so because it is not always that the decision made will favor all the parties involved. When making a decision, it is of great importance for one to ensure that all pertinent issues are put into consideration. One of the key factors that must always be considered when making a decision is the ethical factor. Ethic simply defined refers to issues of morals and what is generally considered to be the standards of judging what is right or wrong. This discussion looks at ethical decision-making and in particular focuses on some of the theories that are relevant or related to decision making.

Steps in Ethical Decision Making

When making an ethical decision, several factors ought to be put into consideration.

The Issue

The first step is to identify what the issue of contention is about. When we talk of an ethical issue, it does not necessarily mean an issue that involves the law. On the contrary, ethics ties together both the law and what is considered moral in society. Therefore the very first and most essential step in ethical decision making is determining whether indeed an issue is ethical or not. Normally, when you are confronted with an issue that seems not to rest well with you and you need to make consultations with others, there is more often than not an issue of ethics. Therefore in such a case, it is wise to seek counsel of other people so that the decision reached is collective as opposed to individual.

Gather Facts

The second step involves making consideration of what you know about the issue and what you do not know which may be equally important. You must also consider at this stage the people who are likely to be affected by the decision that you are about to make (Audi, 2006, p.567). Upon identifying such people, it is also important to find out whether they have been involved in the consultation process, what alternatives there are to making such a decision and any other factor that will ensure fairness and justice in the decision that you are about to make.

Evaluation of alternatives

This involves weighing the different alternatives that are available and going for one that best serves the interests of all. This is where the theories of ethical decision-making come in whereby there are various approaches that one can use in making an ethical decision. The best approach is one that ensures that the bigger majority has been catered for (Melden, 2008, p. 236).

Evaluate your Decision

This involves putting the decision that you have made to the test. At this stage you are trying to evaluate and see whether you can comfortably explain your decision with sufficient support to every person those affected and those not affected alike. If you find that you may not have a perfect explanation for your decision, then you may want to rethink it over (Banks, 2010, p.89).

Just Do It

Once you feel that you have got sufficient support for the decision made, the next step will then involve implementing it without further ado. Do not keep pondering over the decision that you have made thereby wasting a lot of useful time. You may also give yourself an ultimatum within which you may want to relook at your decision and perhaps make some adjustments (Brown, 2002, p.87-88). Usually, people make decisions with the information they have at hand. Circumstances may however change with time necessitating a review of the decision made earlier.

Theories used in Ethical Decision Making

When making an ethical decision, some theories are usually applied.

Utilitarian Approach

Under this theory, it is argued that a decision will be considered ethical only when it is doing more good than harm. In other words, those in support of this theory recognize the fact that every approach or aspect must have two sides to it which are the favorable side and the unfavorable side. They therefore argue that for a decision to be ethical, the favorable side must outweigh the unfavorable side. Looking at this approach from an organizational point of view, an ethical decision therefore would be one whose impacts affect all the people involved least negatively. Therefore under this approach, the harm done should be way less than the good achieved. The main focus under this theory therefore is on the consequences of the decision made which consequences should impact the people less negatively and more positively.

The Rights Approach

This is yet another approach that is commonly applied in ethical decision-making. Under this theory, a decision is said to be ethical if it takes care of the rights of those who are likely to be affected by the decision made. It has been argued that when an ethical decision is about to be made, those parties who are likely to be affected by the decision are seen as vulnerable. For that reason, their moral rights must be given protection by all means possible. The decision which best protects the rights of these people is considered most ethical under this theory (Sim, 1997, p. 67). The root of this theory stems from the argument that human beings by their very nature have dignity and they also have the freedom to decide what they would want to do with their lives. Based on their dignity, all human beings have a right to be treated not as means but as ends (Kizza, 2010, p. 231).

The Justice or Fairness Theory

This theory was developed by great Greek philosophers like Aristotle who argue that fairness must be practiced in making ethical decisions (Livingstone, 2009, p. 87). Therefore, stemming from this argument, ethical decisions under this approach are those that treat all people affected by a decision equally without appearing to favor one side of the divide over another (Fischer, 2000, p. 789).

Challenges Leaders Face in Making Ethical Decisions

Whenever leaders in organizations are faced with ethical dilemmas, making a decision is not always an easy task. There are many challenges which include the fact that when ethical decisions are made, it is not always that every person affected will be happy. In most cases, those affected especially within the organizations will always consider the decision as unfair and unjust. As brought out clearly in the above theories, leaders also have a challenge in balancing and ensuring that the ethical decision is one that will benefit the majority of the people (Miller &Jentz, 2007, p. 98). More often, the minorities who have been affected by a certain ethical decision will always raise issues of having been treated unfairly (Chinn, 1989, p.67). The other challenges include being able to explain the basis on which an ethical decision has been based. More often than not, leaders find themselves on the receiving end especially when they are being made to explain how they arrived at the ethical decision they made (Copp, 2007, p.54). It is for that reason that every leader must ensure that before they implement any ethical decision they have made, they can explain with sufficient reasons how they arrived at their decision.

Once leaders have given the basis of their decisions, they are also taken to task in explaining how that reasoning can be applied to particular situations. Ethical decision-making is a catch 22 situation whereby one seemingly gains on one end while losing on another (Weeks, 1987, p.456). This is perhaps the biggest challenge that leaders always have to face when making ethical decisions.

Strategies of Preventing Unethical Decision Making

The first step in ensuring that people in management and leadership do not make unethical decisions is by having in place a code of ethics that defines what is considered as right and wrong within the organization. This means that any decision made shall be in tandem with the code of ethics of the organization. It is also important for organizations to create general awareness about ethics to both the senior people in management and also the junior staff (Kimmel, 2007, p.78). It has been documented that sometimes, people make unethical decisions out of ignorance. This means that they make such decisions without being aware that indeed they are being unethical. Having a form of orientation on the issue will also go a long way in helping eliminate making unethical decisions (Lakin, 1988, p. 65).

Intensive consultation is also key in helping avoid unethical decision-making. Usually when a decision is taken by an individual, there is a likelihood of making an error and hence making an unethical decision (Guy, 1990, p. 234). However, when one makes consultations with colleagues, then there will be an exchange of ideas which will ensure that the decision taken is collective and representative of the ideas of all people thereby avoiding making an unethical decision.

Relevance of Ethical Decision Making in Micro Finances and Women Empowerment in Africa

Just like any other organization, ethical decision-making is very essential in microfinance (Murphy and Willmott, 2010, p.456). To enhance the development of any organization, tough decisions sometimes have to be made for the greater good of the organization and also to ensure that the sole reason why the organization was established which is to make profits is achieved (Geuras& Garofalo, 2011, p. 34). Micro finances deal with finances which are in great amounts. In such organizations, there are various departments within the organization (Ferrel & Fraedrich, 2005, p.65). Every department has heads who are in charge and sometimes they are faced with situations where they have to decide on very tough yet sensitive matters regarding the organization. Without making ethical decisions in organizations, the development of organizations will be heavily impeded and this may affect the greater good of the organization (Hugman &Smith, 1995 p. 671)

Women empowerment and especially in Africa has also undergone tremendous growth and ethical decision-making has played a major role in facilitating this (Josephson, 2002, p.67). By ensuring that fairness, justice, and equality are done, women have been empowered and they have also been given a chance to participate in what was previously considered to be a male donated career field. Today, women hold major positions both in government and business sectors and this has seen societies grow.


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