Independence – A Central Tenet of the Work of an Ombuds

by Gregory K. Stephens, Ph.D., AOM Ombuds

On occasion, when faced with knotty disputes, I have shared the issues with a long-time mediation partner (now retired) and asked for feedback and creative insight. Part of the reason those conversations were so valuable to me was because, though she was insightful, wise, and careful, she had (as we say in Texas) “no dog in the hunt.” That is, she was an independent resource, one who I could depend upon to be thoughtful and unbiased, and who would not be obligated to share my challenges with someone in authority.

This, at its core, describes the first of the Standards of Practice under which we operate as Ombuds for the Academy of Management — Independence. We are independent from other organizational entities, such as the Ethical Adjudication Committee. We do not hold other positions within the AOM that might compromise our independence. Within the constraints of the other IOA Standards of Practice, Confidentiality, Neutrality, and Informality (to be discussed in our next blog post) we have discretion over whether or how to act in response to  an individual’s concern or trending issues of concern to multiple individuals. In short, we do not have pressures to reveal information or act in any obligatory way, outside of our concern for the individual.

In practical terms, what this means is that we can help our “visitors” navigate the policies and procedures of the AOM organization, see their issues through different eyes, explore different ways of handling their concerns, and even deal with both parties in a dispute (again, acknowledging and abiding by expectations for confidentiality, impartiality, and neutrality). Because we are independent from formal disciplinary mechanisms, we are not obligated to reveal information shared in conversations with our visitors, nor are we expected to share individually identifiable issues with others in the AOM hierarchy.

Independence of the Ombuds in any organization is important to avoid both the reality and appearance of divided loyalties. As Luis Piñero,  University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Vice Provost for Workforce Equity and Diversity, said, “Ombuds cannot be seen as extensions of the power structure. If they are not perceived as independent, people may not seek them out.” Our whole goal is to help our visitors to find ways to resolve their concerns and disputes, with a goal of avoiding the blunt instrument of formal authority. Achieving that goal would be difficult or impossible without independence.

We (the AOM Ombuds) are here to help, and want to serve the dispute resolution needs of the members of the Academy of Management. We commit to abide by the Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association, including independence, and the Academy of Management has likewise committed to those standards. If you have questions or if you are in need of our services, please reach out to us at Ombuds@aom.org.

AOM, Political Positions & Realities

In this tumultuous political climate, many professional associations and research institutes are finding themselves in a challenging situation. The AOM is not immune. Indeed, the global nature of the Academy means we have a number of complex dilemmas to consider, as well as practical problems associated with travel to the annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia next summer.

The Academy’s Executive Committee advanced a proposal to amend the policy on political stands:

“On February 5th, the Executive Committee unanimously approved an amendment to allow stands on an exceptional basis. This amendment was approved on February 10th in an extraordinary meeting of the Board of Governors. The AOM will take a stand when our purpose, existence, or function as an organization is threatened. The policy will be embargoed for 90 days while a task force explores how the policy will be elaborated and implemented (please see below for additional information on both the policy and the task force).”

In the meantime, it is important that leaders and members know what can and can’t be said and done in the name of the Academy of Management.  Please take a moment to review updated answers to frequently asked questions.

The mission of the AOM is to “To build a vibrant and supportive community of scholars by markedly expanding opportunities to connect and explore ideas.” Our Code of Ethics reminds us of of our commitment to “respect the dignity and worth of all people” and points out that “Academy members have a duty to consider their responsibilities to the world community.” Standing for our values and principles is easy when they aren’t tested!

We are also exploring a range of member suggestions, such as increased reliance on web-based technologies and video-conferencing. If you are directly affected by the ban, or you have suggestions for other ways in which we can support and enable scholarly participation by affected scholars, contact Taryn Fiore at tfiore@aom.org.

 

Journal editors – unregulated and unmonitored

HI Friends

I’ve been quiet for a couple of months – summer schedule and all – and wanted to get back to the blogosphere. I’ll try and be more diligent.

Many strange things have been brought to my attention over the summer, but I thought I would start with a more personal experience. That way, if anyone want’s to comment, at least one side of the equation is available.

Last spring we sent a paper in to an unnamed FT50 journal. Normally, these top journals reply within three months – at least – that has been my experience until now, for the most part. One consequence of the enhanced competitive environment is that journal editors seem to invite submissions by promising faster turn around.

In any case, a full six months went by, without hearing from the journal. As a result, I contacted the editor directly.  The editor immediately responded, on a Friday,  by saying “I should have contacted him earlier” and that he would ‘get on it’. By Monday, we had our rejection, along with only one review, and a note from the editor saying he was unable to get a second review. He didn’t even bother adding his own comments to the rejection letter. Needless to say, the first review was not very helpful, but that is beside the point. This little exchange once again brings me to question the authority, transparency, and lack of professionalism sometime exhibited by editors of even top journals. One cannot help wondering, given the importance of these gate-keeping roles, how it happens that we have processes that appear cavalier, with no recourse regarding accountability, transparency, appeal, or arbitration. In this particular case, my career does not hinge on the outcome – but I must report – in many cases where individual careers are in jeopardy, I have more often observed arrogance than compassion.

So, this brings me to raise an important question – and I must highlight – this question does NOT apply to Academy of Management journals, where transparency and fairness seems to be much more institutionalized.

Who appoints these people as editors?

Who governs their behavior?

Why do we allow autocratic and incompetent behavior by editors, even of prestigious journals?

In my view, we have a serious professional need for an equivalent of ‘rate my professor’ for academic journals. Such an idea was posed a few years ago in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Robert Deaner who called for a “consumer reports for journals”. We could monitor and evaluate the review process, the editorial process, the time taken, and other aspects of peer review. If anyone is interested in starting such an activity, please let me know – as I think we really need some monitoring out there.

Happy Research!

Benson

 

Ethics and Creating a Healthy & Inclusive World

From Kathryn Goldman Schuyler

One of the large ethical questions we face in teaching about organization change and development relates to who is included and who excluded in societal ‘progress’ stimulated by business.  These two sessions build upon a new book about creating a healthy world, with noted thought leaders like Otto Scharmer, Bob, Quinn, and Riane Eisler—each of whom has addressed questions of power, dominance, includion and exclusion, and purpose in their writings for years. what an opportunity to interact with them directly!

What is our role as scholars in creating meaningful organizations and a healthy world?  The AOM presents two interconnected sessions to nourish dialogue on this important question.
[1] Highly interactive PDW on Leadership for a Healthy World – SATURDAY 10:15 am -12:45 pm Marriott, Northeast Marquis Ballroom. 
Otto Scharmer, Robert Quinn, Susan Skjei, and Kathryn Goldman Schuyler will create an atmosphere that invites you to explore what is meaningful to you with regard to societal health! This PDW highlights how shifting the inner place from which you operate as a leader so you connect to the sources of your own self (your own humanity, your own creativity) is key to transformative change. We focus particularly on how we create meaning for ourselves and others. What makes work feel meaningful? Meaningless? What is the role of leaders in this—and your role? The session will alternate between short talks by these distinguished speaker and breakouts that allow everyone to participate actively.
[2] Go deeply into the thinking behind the new ILA book CREATIVE SOCIAL CHANGE: Leadership for a Healthy World, which builds on thinking by Otto Scharmer and Robert E. Quinn (who will speak) as well as Meg Wheatley, Ed Schein, and Peter Senge about the nature of organizational health. Showcase symposium: Leading Meaningfully

MONDAY 11:30 am, Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon E, with Otto Scharmer, Robert Quinn, Riane Eisler, Samuel Wilson, and Kathryn Goldman Schuyler.

This symposium fosters dialogue among these noted thinkers on the interconnections among leadership, sustainability, the long-term viability of the planet, organizational development, and how these depend on meaningful organizations. Brought together, these arenas of research and action can influence events globally and contribute to creating a healthy society. The distinguished speakers are respected internationally for their diverse contributions to thought and action related to creating such a healthy world. While all are contributors to our new book, the symposium brings them together for a first time in person to discuss the interconnections among their different perspectives and experience.
[3] Come meet Otto Scharmer, Bob Quinn, and me at the Emerald Booth in the exhibit hall on SUNDAY at 2:30 for drinks and snacks—and get your copy of Creative Social Change signed by Otto Scharmer, Robert Quinn, and Kathryn Goldman Schuyler!!

Let’s explore ethics in Anaheim!

ethics clipartThe AOM annual meeting is just around the corner. If you are like me, you are sifting through the ginormous digital program to constructyou a personal schedule– and hoping it will require you to run around too much in order to attend the sessions that interest you.

If ethics is a topic of interest, perhaps this compilation of sessions will help you find the ones you want to attend:

Sessions about Ethics 
AOM 2016 Annual Meeting Custom Program for Ethics

Of course, I hope you’ll join us in the Ethics Education Committee Open Forum sessions on Saturday! All are welcome: students, practitioners, new and experienced academics from any Division.

These Open Fora give us a chance to discuss issues and concerns related to our membership in the Academy of Management as well as in our academic and professional lives. The Ethics Education Committee truly listens to the dilemmas and great examples shared in the sessions and we use the notes to guide our activities in the coming year.

Open Forum on Ethical Scholarship
Program Session: 423 | Submission: 18385 | Sponsor(s): (AAA)
Scheduled: Saturday, Aug 6 2016 4:00PM – 5:30PM at Anaheim Marriott in Elite Ballroom 1

Facilitators Janet Salmons, Deborah Mullen, and Charles Fenner will catalyze discussion about ethical dilemmas in research, instruction, and publication arenas. 

The 2nd forum will focus on global issues in Academy membership and our field. Luckily, no running is involved between our sessions!

Open Forum on Global Ethics for Business & Academia
Program Session: 454 | Submission: 18386 | Sponsor(s): (AAA)
Scheduled: Saturday, Aug 6 2016 5:45PM – 7:15PM at Anaheim Marriott in Elite Ballroom 1

Special guests: Jonas Haertle, Head, Principles for Responsible Management Education Sec & Academic Affairs, UN Global Compact Office, United Nations

and

Mark Meaney, Chairperson, North America Chapter
Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME)

Ethics: What is expected of AOM Members?

ethics-cropped-1024x555Did you realize that as a member of the Academy of Management you “agree to uphold and promote the principles of the ‘AOM_Code_of_Ethics’ and to adhere to its enforced ethical standards”? Do you know what principles and standards you agreed to uphold?

Like most people, you probably think the Code of Ethics exists as a reference to consult when things go horribly wrong.   Understandably, studying the AOM Code of Ethics is probably at the very bottom of an extremely long to-do list.

So why would you read and think about the AOM Code of Ethics? First, yourightandwrongdecisions might want to know what the AOM expects of you as a member, and what you can expect of other members. Are there specific ethical guidelines you should know about, as related to participation in activities in your Divisions, committees, the annual conference or other AOM events? What about guidelines for your professional life outside of AOM– as a researcher, instructor, consultant, or as a student?

Second, you might want to know where you can find help or answers when you encounter ethical dilemmas. Who should you go to within the Academy? What are the roles of the Ethics Committee including the Ombuds Committee, the Adjudication Committee, as well as the Ethics Education Committee (EEC)?

Finally, you might want to know what is contained in the current Academy of Management Code of Ethics, so you can provide input on periodic revisions. How can we make sure this Code is up-to-date and relevant given emerging dilemmas in our world?

The Ethics Education Committee is here to help. At the coming Annual Meeting in Anaheim we can offer the following types of sessions for your meeting, Division Consortium or Committee:

  1.  Presentation and Discussion: A 60-minute interactive session on business and professional ethics, values and the AOM Code of Ethics.
  2. Overview and Q & A: A 30-minute introduction to the AOM Code of Ethics, who does what at the Academy in the ethics area, including the role of the Ombuds.
  3.  Discussant: An EEC member can attend an ethics session you are offering, and answer questions as needed about the AOM Code, Ombuds roles etc.

Please contact EEC Chair Janet Salmons (jsalmons[at]vision2lead.com or with the contact form below) to discuss ways the EEC can help ensure that new and returning members your area of the Academy are familiar with the principles and standards they agreed to uphold.

The EEC will also be offering these opportunities for discussion at the Annual Meeting:

  • Open Forum on Ethical Scholarship on Saturday, August 06 from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.
  • Open Forum on Global Ethics for Business & Academia on Saturday, August 06 from 5:45 PM – 7:15 PM at the Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.
  • Committee Meeting: If you are interested in joining us, our (open) meeting will be held Sunday, August 07, from 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM at the Anaheim Marriott, Elite Ballroom 1.

 

 

 

The Meaning of Ethics

We’re long overdue here at the Ethicist to get back into the swing of things! Obviously, we’re now looking forward to the annual meeting in Anaheim, which has an especially fortuitous theme for the Ethics Education Committee. As this year’s program chair, Mary Ann Glynn, points out, meaning and ethics are closely related issues for organizations:

Recently, there have been highly publicized corporate scandals, Wall Street corruption, and failures of government to meet the needs of its citizens, with a resulting rise in public distrust and questioning of organizations’ reasons for being.  We often take as given that an organization’s purpose to produce economic value; and, although economic value can often add to social value, sometimes it does not.  This disjuncture raises the question of meaningfulness.

Avoiding scandal and fostering trust is arguably the very meaning of ethics. And if it is true, as I think it is, that communities are essentially constituted by their ethics (show me your ethics and I’ll tell you a great deal about what kind of community you’ve got) then there’s no doubt that frequent scandals and and deepening mistrust would raise fundamental questions about an organization’s “reason for being”. What’s going on? What’s it all about? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Important issues to think about.

Nor is the academy (and even the Academy) able to keep itself entirely aloof from these questions. In the world of research, there have also been scandals and mistrust, and we need to face these issues squarely in our own research practice and communities. That’s where the Ethicist and the Ethics Education Committee would like to be of help.

We’re currently reaching out the AOM divisions to offer our help in developing and implementing ethics modules in their PDW’s and consortia sessions. It is our view that ethics is best approached as a conversation, not a merely a code of conduct. While we have the Code to guide us, the  really interesting work happens in a discussion of the details. And that conversation always has to be anchored in the actual practices that constitute the wide variety of research communities with the Academy of Management. Accordingly, our first responsibility as ethics educators is to listen and learn from members about the situations they face.

This post, then, is an invitation to engage in conversation. Feel free to leave comments below about the sorts of issues you think need to be faced, either by your own discipline or by the management field in general. Also, I am coordinating our consortia contributions this year, so if you are leading a consortium session for your division and would like include the EEC, either in your presentation or in your planning, please contact me by mail so we can work out the details.

 

Decency

A while back, I got into an interesting discussion with Andrew on the subject of courage, which stemmed from my temporary reticence about speaking my mind in public, or my resentment, if you will, of my “obligation to publish”. (I’m happy to say that I’m much better now.) One thought led to another and I soon found myself warning against a situation in which it might take “heroic amounts” of courage to tell the truth in the social sciences, management studies included. Andrew rightly found that prospect depressing.

But along the way I also noticed the particular virtue that might make all the difference here. It’s an insight worth explicating, if for no other reason than to reveal its flaws. (Let me know if you can spot any, please.) It seems to me that we depend on the decency of others not to make too great demands of our courage. What is this strange comportment we call decency that it could have this power?

In the comments, Erik suggested that the anonymity of peer review removes the need for a great deal of courage. And in an important sense, this is exactly the sort of thing I mean. It’s not that I think anonymous reviewers are congenital cowards, though I’m sure many disgruntled authors would like me to validate them in this belief. Rather, since it takes no courage to review a paper (in ordinary cases), we have to rely on the reviewer’s decency. Since they are protected from our personal judgment of them, we can only hope that they will not exploit their freedom to cruelly abuse us, or lead us on a wild goose chase for pointless references, or waste our time with needless revision. We count on them not reject (or accept us) for their own personal gain, and to tell us honestly what they of our work.

But by the same token, where strong institutions ensure decency, e.g., where editorial oversight protects authors from unhelpful reviews, it also takes less courage to submit a paper for review. We know the editor is not going to let our reviewers abuse us and we can rest assured that if they do form a very negative of opinion of our work, they will not be able to form a correspondingly negative opinion of us.

I’ll never forget the lightbulb that went off in my head many years ago when I was reading Edward Johnson’s Handbook of Good English. He said that it’s an editor’s job is to “protect the author from criticism”, meaning unconstructive complaints about language and grammar from the end reader. An associate editor’s job at journal, by extension, is to protect the author from unconstructive criticism of one’s ideas, first from the reviewers, by demanding a certain standard of them, and thereafter from readers, by selecting competent reviewers that are actually able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the paper that has been submitted.

I like to think of decency as the virtue of “immediate rightness”, or appropriateness in the moment. It’s a matter of keeping the surfaces of social interaction tolerably pleasant. Our code requires us to “respect the dignity and worth of all people” in our activities as management scholars and professionals. We might also say we are bound to be decent. It’s akin to “civility”, but that will have to be a topic for another day.

Courage

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Hamlet

In the comments to my last post, Andrew quite literally encouraged me to speak my mind. Truth be told, I’ve always been ambivalent about “intellectual courage”. Sometimes the exercise of our ethical obligations seems to require us to be courageous. But is courage itself an ethical obligation?

Courage is, of course, a virtue and it is presumably what is required of us when we “speak truth to power”. In the paradigm case, some form of social power asks us to lie or to remain silent, and when we defy this power we exercise courage. The consequences can be quite serious because, in so far as the power is real, it is also dangerous. If the powerful person or institution we are defying chooses to punish us for speaking the truth, then it has, by definition, the power to do so.

To understand my ambivalence, consider the ethical obligations that follow from being physically strong. “Ought,” they say, “implies can.” If someone is trapped under a car I have an ethical obligation to lift the car off them, but only, of course, if I have the strength to do so. Is courage a kind of “strength” in that sense?

Courage is a virtue and cowardice is a vice. But some part of our everyday moral psychology also sees them as character traits, i.e., as qualities we are either born with or develop through practice but, in any case, simply have a certain amount of at any given time. Suppose I know a “truth” that “power” would have me remain silent about. To speak it is to risk my career. Now, suppose I simply lack the courage to do it. I’m a “coward”, to be sure, but am I violating my ethics? How much courage can be demanded of my ethical behavior?

We are getting to the core of the issue I want to raise. How much courage should it take to speak the truth in an academic environment? Should it take courage to tell someone they are wrong?

On the one hand, we’d think universities would be a premier site of intellectual courage, much like the military should offer regular occasions for valour.* But let’s think this through. Suppose speaking the truth generally takes a great deal of courage. We will then rely on “heroes” to know what is going on. As students, we must assume that learning how the world works will itself require a great deal of courage, not just intelligence and diligence. Worse, the pressures that require truth-tellers to be courageous would also, of course, make cowards of the rest of us, those of us who are disinclined towards heroic acts of speaking truth to power.

In fact, what our academic institutions ought to do is to insulate inquirers from the social pressures that would require them to be courageous. Perhaps we could say an academic should never have to speak truth to power, but always to knowledge, i.e., to something that won’t hurt them, but might correct them. Don’t we want to know truths even if they are discovered by natural born cowards?

From this point of view, it is unfortunate that academics do, throughout the course of their career, amass real, if somewhat parochial, power. They have the power to exploit (and even harass and abuse) their students, for example, or the power to promote ideologies or products, sometimes for something as base as money. Finally, academics have the power to promote or obstruct their colleagues in their careers.

I want here to focus on the cases in which the abuse of power is also the distortion of truth. Sexual harassment, while certainly wrong, and often worse than intellectual dishonesty, does not directly distort our understanding of a given social phenomenon or exaggerate our confidence in a particular theory. (Because of the concomitant lying, to be sure, it does distort the reality experienced by the harassed persons and their colleagues. But this is not a fully or, if you will, a “merely” academic distortion.)

While it seems petty, and certainly unethical, there is really no question about whether academics have an incentive to punish each other for pointing out each other’s mistakes. An academic who is known for making mistakes will be less successful than one who is known for getting things right. So, if I have the power to prevent someone from pointing out my mistakes, I also, whatever else is true, have an incentive to use it. I may simply bribe the would-be truth-teller with promises of advancement, or I may threaten them with unpleasant consequences. This would be unethical.

In an ethical environment, of course, we would trust that I will not be punished for pointing out a mistake. But this will probably require that no one is ever punished for making them (removing the incentive to punish me for pointing it out). That is, I would be able even to be wrong about your mistakes, more or less without consequences. That’s a truly “utopian” situation.

The dystopian situation, however, is one in which it is very dangerous to speak what Al Gore famously called “an inconvenient truth”. Science would only be done by heroes, and, since these are rare, we would have to resign ourselves to the fact that most scientists are intellectual cowards. In my view, ethics is what ensures that only a reasonable, “ordinary” if you will, amount of courage is needed. We would, for the most part, rely on the decency of our colleagues.** And it would also ensure that science, as a social institution, wouldn’t have much need for cowards; wouldn’t encourage them, if you will.

We will, no doubt, always have to speak the truth, if we speak it at all, to some form of power. And so our knowledge will always depend to some extent on our intellectual courage. We can hope, however, that it does not depend on heroic amounts of courage. That same situation is much more likely to make cowards of most of us.
__________
*Movies that construe soldiers as heroes are, of course, very common. But we sometimes forget how rare they make real courage seem, even among soldiers. In most war movies (and novels), most members of the military, often including high-level officers, are “just following orders”, many of them out of lust for reward or fear of punishment. Much of the conflict pits the hero against these mediocrities.

Indeed, it is possible to raise the question of whether the modern army isn’t actually an attempt to wage war without courage or valour. (This is a common critique of drones, but was already an issue in the British navy, I was once told, when missiles were introduced that allowed one ship to sink another it couldn’t see.) Modernity aside, perhaps this has always been the purpose of a standing army; kings and emperors were finding heroes a bit too rare or too capricious (or perhaps even too honourable!) to realize their foreign policies.

**There’s probably an important relationship between courage and decency. I will explore this in a later post.