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.

PDW Making Ethical Codes Meaningful

SIM and the Ethics Education Committee collaborated on a caucus held in Vancouver. In small groups, participants examined themes and potential revisions to the AOM Code of Ethics. We are now using the notes from that caucus as we work to propose changes to the content and format of the Code. In Anaheim, SIM will offer an excellent opportunity to continue the conversation, and consider ethical codes in the context of this year’s theme of “Meaningful Organizations.” I invited Scott Taylor and Laura Spence to share information about this important PDW, and I hope to see you there! –Janet Salmons, Chair, EEC

Making Ethical Codes Meaningful – Change, Community and Voice
Scott Taylor and Laura Spence

#161 MAKING DIVERSITY & INCLUSION MEANINGFUL: MOVING FROM DE JURE CODES TO DE FACTO PRACTICE
Friday August 5, 4.15-6.15pm
Sheraton Palm Hotel, Palm East. All welcome!

If we know anything with certainty in the field of business ethics, it’s that ethical codes don’t guarantee ethical actions. Many colleagues use the Enron code of ethics in teaching to demonstrate this – a spectacularly detailed, glossy, hortatory 65 page document, that was systematically ignored and derided by most working in that unhappy organization. An extreme example of code-practice disconnect, for sure, but one that we should always have in mind when we develop and promote ethical codes, such as the one to which all AOM members are automatic signatories. Need a reminder of what it you have agreed to? Take a look here.

It is no surprise that we don’t all have the content of the AOM code memorised, and that needn’t mean that we are acting in contradiction to it. Or indeed our practise might naturally exceed the expectations set out in the AOM code. However, there are times when observable practice contravenes the code.  Whatever your position on the value of codes of conduct – and they are subject to critique themselves of course – if you are member of AOM, you have committed to following this one.

To think through and act on the potential for code-practice disconnect, we decided to put together a PDW in Anaheim this year on the topic of bringing codes into practice with a view to identifying practical steps through an interactive workshop. We asked people from Africa, Europe, North America and South America to come together and make provocative presentations about putting formal professional ethics into meaningful practice. Presenters and discussants will talk about their experiences of working with police forces, social movements, and academic colleagues, in practising and analysing how ethics happen in complex organizations.

One of the intellectual reasons for putting this workshop together was the realisation that management researchers and educators have been writing and talking about the gap between codes and practice for as long as management and organization studies has been taught and written. This observation was the central pillar of, for example, Melville Dalton’s classic book Men Who Manage (first edition 1959!): official behaviours, represented in codes and guidelines, and unofficial actions, observed in everyday organizational life, were universally characterised by being markedly different. Why have codes if we don’t intend to act on them? And as the entries on this blog to date show, the key first step is to think, talk, and write about the gaps. That’s the first purpose of this workshop.

Like Dalton, though, we also want to take a second step, towards taking action. To that end, we’re creating a space where people can listen to and talk about very concrete possibilities: social activism, implementing quotas, protecting the conditions for voices to be heard, and occupying formal offices (in AOM and in our own employing institutions). None of these things are easy to do, especially when the everyday demands of academic work is so high, and when so many positions are precarious, framed by short-term contracts, pressures to publish, managerialism, and student assessments of our teaching.

However, if we don’t take up the challenge to bring what we know about ethics to our own profession as well as to the organizations that our students work in, then what, really is the point? First, we leave ourselves open to accusations of hypocrisy – if our own house isn’t clean, then we have no right to tell others how to maintain theirs. Second, we’re likely to experience significant cognitive dissonance – and again, we know from the research we do as a community, that’s not great to live with. Finally, it’s simply the right thing to do – as a profession, despite steadily degrading working conditions, many of us still have the privilege of being (mostly) in control of our own workplaces, institutions, and practices. In that sense, we have the freedom to think about and take pro-social, progressive action in our own working lives, as well as promoting this to others.

Do join us, and come armed with your challenges and solutions relating to the practice of ethics in the Academy of Management. We are keen to have a diverse and engaged workshop, so bring some innovation and energy too!

#161 MAKING DIVERSITY & INCLUSION MEANINGFUL: MOVING FROM DE JURE CODES TO DE FACTO PRACTICE
Chair:
Laura Spence, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.

Presenters:

  • Rafael Alcadipani, Sao Paulo School of Economics/FGV-EAESP, Brazil. Practising diversity in extreme organizations.
  • Yvonne Benschop, Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University, Netherlands. Formal and informal networking to promote diversity and inclusion.
  • Lauren McCarthy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Social movement and action, technology and feminism for inclusion.
  • Patrizia Zanoni, Hasselt University, Belgium. The challenges of engaged scholarship on diversity and inclusion.

Panel:

  • Alex Faria, Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration /FGV-EBAPE, Brazil. Practising diversity and inclusion through post- and decolonial thinking.
  • Sarah Gilmore, University of Portsmouth, UK. Bureaucracy and holding office in service of inclusion.
  • Scott Taylor, University of Birmingham, UK. Building inclusive communities.

    Discussants:

  • Eileen Kwesiga, Bryant University. HRM and diversity.
  • Nceku Nyathi, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Values based leadership.

Sponsored by the Diversity & Inclusion Theme Committee, Critical Management Studies, Gender & Diversity in Organizations, Social Issues in Management.

 

 

Join us in Anaheim at AOM’s Annual Meeting!

The Ethics Education Committee at Anaheim

We look forward to discussing the ethical dilemmas you are encountering in your academic and professional lives, and in your interactions as an AOM member.

When journal editors are unprofessional

I recently read a NY times article highlighting an obvious conflict, when stock analysts own stock or options in the companies they are evaluating, or retain close ties with  those companies. It’s kind of horrifying to think that what is regarded as objective, unsolicited advice, may really be individuals trying to ‘game’ the system, by pushing up the price of their options for personal gain. Of course, that’s Wall Street, we’ve seen it before, and I’m sure we’ll see it again. But it got me thinking – what about journal editors?

Journal editors make decisions, often with considerable career implications, but their relationships – with the persons they evaluate, or the way they make decisions – is entirely opaque. It’s not like there’s some sort of appeals board one can go to if one thinks they have been slighted by an editor who bears a grudge against an author, their university, or even the theoretical or methodological paradigm they are writing about. This opens up not only questions of abuse of power and self interest, but also of due process.

We all want to think that the blind review process is objective – but what about the reviewer selection?  What about other practices? I don’t have to go far to find a litany of editor’s abusive activities. Just scratching the surface, we find the ‘tit for tat’ exchange – “ I will publish your paper in my journal, with the expectation that you will reciprocate with a publication your journal”. The special issue editor, that always seems to publish good friends and colleagues from their particular sphere of influence. Special issue editors are a particular problem, as they seem to go relatively unregulated. These practices effectively reduce the probability of a general submission being accepted, as there are few slots allocated to the genuine public of scholars. We also have coercive citations abuse, whereby the editor informs the author that they need to cite their journal (to improve the impact factor) in the editor’s R&R letter.  And, of course, we have the form letter rejection, sometimes not even reflecting the contents of the paper submitted, or addressing the material in a way demonstrating that the editor actually read anything.

What I find particularly surprising is that there is virtually no recourse. Many of us have experienced egregious editorial injustice, yet we simply grin and bear it. Students, on the other hand, seem to have figured out a way to vent their frustrations is a way that might, perhaps, temper the worst of academic injustice. Sites like ‘rate my professor’ allow students to voice their anger and frustration at what they view to be unjust or unprofessional activities. While I am the first to acknowledge that the site is relatively un-monitored and subject to potential biases and abuse – at least it provides a forum.

Academy of Management journals maintain a fairly transparent editorial policy, limiting the tenure of editors, and opening up nominations to our membership. This is good practice. Why don’t ALL journals publish a code of editorial ethics? Why don’t they ALL consider grievance procedures? Where is our academic forum? Why is it that we academics, have not devised a site to discuss perceived biases, unprofessional behavior, and irresponsible editing? I know, from talking with colleagues, that most of us have experienced unprofessional and sometimes outright unethical practices. Yet, we sit silently, submitting our papers to yet another journal, hoping for a fair evaluation at another venue. Meanwhile, some editors, even those demonstrating deeply abusive practices, are professionally rewarded.

Is there something we can do?  Does anyone have a suggestion? Or, are we all ‘happy campers”?

Better by the Dozen: The Ethicist Blog Posts July 2011-Feb 2013

With the February 2013 blog post on “Ethics in Research Scenarios: What Would YOU Do?”,  The Ethicist has now published two dozen blogs on three areas of ethics that affect not only AOM members, but all members of the scholarly professions: research, teaching and professional life. Links to each of these posts are provided below, together with a downloadable one-page PDF for printing and circulation. Enjoy!

 

Continue reading “Better by the Dozen: The Ethicist Blog Posts July 2011-Feb 2013”

Job Offers

When Is a Job Offer Really a Job Offer in Academia?

 

It may sound like a silly question.  Or maybe it sounds like a question on the final exam of some first-year law student’s Contracts course –often another forum for silliness.  But it’s not so silly when you receive a phone call, email or letter from some departmental, college or university official asking you to move across the country or across the world to take a new job.  And it’s not so silly when you are on the other end of that transaction doing the asking –some might say wooing— to get a would-be colleague to move across the country or world.

 

Offers and acceptances are part of everyday life, so we tend to think that we know them when hear, read one and or write them.  But it might be a little more complicated when it comes to a job-offer, especially when the job is for a senior faculty position with tenure.  And some of the complications have, I think, substantial ethical dimensions.  Even if the job-offer doesn’t include tenure, there are some less-than-obvious process issues worth thinking about so that academics on both sides of the prospective transaction do the right thing.  So let me start the new calendar year with my own take on some ethical issues associated with job-offers in academia:  what they should include; how they should be conveyed; what contingencies might render a “job offer” moot; and how to respond to contingent and non-contingent offers so that you are fair to both your current and prospective future institution.

Continue reading “Job Offers”

The Thought Leader Series: Michael A. Hitt on Ethics in Research

Michael A. Hitt

KEY INSIGHT:  Michael A. Hitt is one of the world’s most respected and prolific management scholars. In this blog, Professor Hitt discusses the ethics of research based on his many years of working in collaborative groups and with PhD students. This blog posting is the first of a series of interviews of thought leaders in our profession, asking them about their views and experience with ethical issues.

 

Professional Life: Attending Professional Meetings

Showing Up

The US comedian and movie director, Woody Allen, once said that 80% of success is showing up.  When it comes to professional meetings, there’s more than a little truth in his claim.  Think about an Academy of Management (AoM) annual meeting.  It would be a rather short and uninteresting event if only a few showed up.  Charles Jamison presided over the second meeting of the AoM in Philadelphia back in 1934.  There were 24 attendees.  Jump ahead to 2000 when Dave Whetten presided over an AoM meeting in Toronto with more than 5500 attendees drawn from a membership exceeding 11,000.  There were thousands of opportunities to hear paper presentations at competitively-selected panel sessions, symposia, caucus meetings, keynote addresses, receptions, and informal gatherings.  I wouldn’t guarantee that every paper or presentation was ready for verbatim publication in one of the AoM journals.  But there were in 2000 and continues to be in 2012 great opportunities to see, hear and learn from a diverse group of scholars and scholarship at AoM meetings.  And it happens in one place over a few days.  Quantity has a quality all its own.  And when you show up, you promote both.

Continue reading “Professional Life: Attending Professional Meetings”

Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Outside Appointments

The Producers Problem

One of my favorite movies is The Producers, and here I mean the original version from 1968 directed by Mel Brooks and starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (not the 2005 re-make starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick).  For those of you unfamiliar with this comedy, here is the basic plot.  A ne’er-do-well Broadway director (Mostel) and his accountant (Wilder) hatch a scheme to make money by producing a play that flops.  The duo will go to backers and raise thousands more than is needed to produce a play.  Of course, they’ll have to sell more than 100% of the profits to raise all of that money, but as long as the show flops –preferably closes on opening night– the backers will expect neither the return of their invested principal nor any profits.  The duo can take the remaining money and head to Rio de Janeiro.  Ah, but if the play is a hit then they’re in big trouble, because they’ve promised much more than 100% of the profits to the backers.[1]  Of course, they end up inadvertently producing a hit musical comedy (improbably titled “Springtime for Hitler”), which lands them in jail for fraud, where they start producing and over-selling yet another musical (more appropriately titled “Prisoners of Love”).  That’s Mel Brooks.

Continue reading “Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Outside Appointments”

Peer Reviewing

Incredible Generosity

December is supposedly the “holiday” month of gift-giving, but recent experience as a track chair for the 2012 Academy of International Business (“AIB”) annual meeting tells me that the real gift-giving time, at least professionally, is from mid-January to mid-February.  It was during those weeks that so many of my AIB peers gave their time and attention to read and review more than 150 papers submitted to my track for competitive or interactive presentation at this summer’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.  My goal was to get multiple reviews for every submission and get them in about four weeks. Virtually every AIB member submitting a paper got a paper.  Several got more than one paper to review.  More than a few got several papers from me, from other AIB track chairs, and from our counterparts over at the Academy of Management.  Four weeks later, practically everyone had submitted their reviews, whether it was just one or several from those “overfished” reviewers.  It was amazing to observe.  And it’s critically important to preserve and nurture.  So that’s my topic for the month:  peer review and its importance in our professional lives; peer review and the motivations of peer reviewers; and how we might do a little less  “overfishing” of some especially good and generous peer reviewers.  Continue reading “Peer Reviewing”