Bullying and the AOM Code of Ethics

Bullying is not mentioned by name in the AOM Code of Ethics. However, principles laid out in the Code make it clear that such behaviors are not appropriate. Members commit to uphold these principles when joining the association. By understanding AOM’s expectations and knowing about the help available for dealing with problematic situations, we can improve our own professional ethics and serve as a resource to others.

  • The principle of responsibility points to the importance of trusting relationships and the necessity of avoiding conflicts of interest that could lead to exploitation or harm.
  • The principle of integrity states that members treat students, colleagues, research subjects, and clients with respect, dignity, fairness, and caring.
  • The principle of respect for people’s rights and dignity affirms the worth of all people and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. This principle clarifies the expectation for awareness and respect for cultural, individual, and role differences. Members try to eliminate the effect on their own work of biases based on these factors, and do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices. The AOM and its members are committed to providing academic and professional work environments that are free of sexual harassment and all forms of sexual intimidation and exploitation.

AOM’s principles are guideposts for members’ attitudes and actions. The Code of Ethics is enforceable when we are interacting with others in our Divisions or Committees, at conferences or AOM-sponsored events. In other words, we have the right to address any issues we experience or observe.  Review the Policies and Procedures or send an email to the Ombuds Committee with any questions:  ethics@aom.org. While not enforceable outside of AOM activities, the Code articulates aspirational goals that guide us toward the highest ideals of research, teaching, practice, and service.

The annual conference for 2018 focused on Improving Lives, and the conference for 2019 will focus on Inclusion. These themes call us to re-examine our academic and professional lives and recommit to principles articulated in our Code of Ethics.

The following post was previously published on SAGE MethodSpace.

Bullying: Bad for People, Bad for Scholarship

Bully

Bullying in the academic workplace keeps coming up in conversations with faculty and graduate students. I’ve discovered a new term for the safe spaces where people reveal such confidences: hush harbors (Nunley 2011). I would like to think that a commitment to higher education translates into a commitment to acting from a higher calling, but alas, when I find myself in a hush harbor, stories about bullying abound. I’ve had enough first-hand experience to know that these stories are real.

I decided to take a look at the literature—what do researchers find when they study their own workplaces? What strategies do they recommend? This is far from an exhaustive exploration of research on bullying, but hopefully you will find some helpful background on the problem, and tips for preventing or addressing it.

Is bullying endemic to academia?

While bullying is present in all kinds of workplaces, such behaviors are apparently exacerbated by power structures particular to higher education.  One adjunct instructor, frustrated by inaction at her university, observed that “the highly competitive, hierarchical atmosphere of academia is well-known as a fertile breeding ground for bullying behavior” (Anonymous, 2018). While much of this activity is private, unreported, and hidden, the incidence of bullying is much higher in academia than in other professional settings (Hollis, 2013).

Bullying in academic institutions has implications beyond the individual suffering. These behaviors can also create a chilling effect on the important work of academia: to teach and develop future scholars who are respectful of each other and can work across disciplines and diverse cultures to conduct and write about research. Keashly and Neuman (2010) found that intellectual inquiry, independent thought, and reasoned discussion suffer in environments where bullying is allowed to continue without consequence. Victims (and those around them) too often remain silent, in fear of retaliation that could sabotage their graduate studies, opportunities to publish, and/or careers.

What is bullying?

Bullying is a pattern of behavior involving repeated unreasonable actions of an individual or group of individuals toward another, which have the intention of shaming, dishonoring, intimidating, and disheartening, and which create a risk to the health or safety of another (SHARP, 2012). Academic incivility includes rude and disrespectful behaviors such as

  • giving colleagues or subordinates the silent treatment
  • micromanagement
  • constant criticism
  • gossip
  • exclusion
  • patronizing behavior
  • belittling others’ work
  • taking credit for others’ work. (Clark et al., 2013).

In our information-intensive age, many of these forms of bullying can take place online, with repercussions that extend beyond one’s own department. The Internet and social media offer new ways for bullies to transmit harmful text messages, photos, or video, sometimes anonymously (Washington, 2014). It is easy to share private information without permission (Condon, 2014), for example, forwarding personal email, posting someone’s ideas out of context, or distributing work-in-progress shared in an informal setting.

What can we do about bullying? 

All of the writers referenced here discussed the fact that having a policy in place is essential but inadequate. A policy document buried on the university website is useless without ongoing attention to the problems. Wright and Hill (2015) suggest that institutions define and discuss a clear strategy for confidential reporting with impunity for victims, and establish consequences for the perpetrators” (p. 17).  An ombuds office that offers a neutral advice about how to address a situation can be an important component of a holistic campus-wide approach.

Wright and Hill (2015) recommend making collegiality, that is, demonstrating a spirit of community and collaboration, a key component of tenure and promotion requirements and faculty evaluations. Rather than pretend that bullying doesn’t exist, discuss and address incidences of incivility. Mentoring and coaching by chairs or senior faculty, particularly with new faculty and graduate students, can help to communicate expectations and options for dealing with difficult situations (Metzger, Petit, & Sieber, 2015).

At the individual level, speaking up is easier said than done and confrontation with the bully is almost never productive (King & Piotrowski, 2015). Practical advice for individuals includes keeping records of specific incidents, submitting corroborative evidence of incivility or incidents directly to the bully’s immediate supervisor, and documenting any and all complaints (King & Piotrowski, 2015).  Sedivy-Benton et al. (2015) suggest a key survival strategy: detachment from the environment in which bullying occurred and attachment to another positive, supportive environment. In such an environment, a hush harbor, collegiality and productive relationships can take away some of the pressure inherent in a hostile environment.

Karen Pyke, past president of the Pacific Sociological Association, called for sociologists “to embrace our professional responsibilities and apply our scholarly knowledge and commitments to the reduction of inequality in our own workplace. If we can’t do it here, can we do it anywhere?” (Pyke, 2018) Surely her question applies to all disciplines! How will you—and your institution—answer it? Please use the comment area to share relevant studies or strategies.

 

References

Anonymous. (2018). We need a bigger conversation about bullying in academia. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2018/jan/26/we-need-a-bigger-conversation-about-bullying-in-academia

Clark, C. M. (2013). National study on faculty-to-faculty incivility: Strategies to foster collegiality and civility. Nurse Educator38, 98-102.

Collins, N. R., & Rogers, B. (2017). Growing concerns with workplace incivility. Workplace Health & Safety, 65(11), 564-564. doi:10.1177/2165079917719468

Condon, B. B. (2014). Incivility as bullying in nursing education. Nursing Science Quarterly, 28(1), 21-26. doi:10.1177/0894318414558617

Keashly, L., & Neuman, J. H. (2010). Faculty experiences with bullying in higher education: Causes, consequences, and management. Administrative Theory & Praxis32, 48-70.

King, C., & Piotrowski, C. (2015). Bullying of educators by educators: Incivility in higher education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 8(4), 257-262.

Metzger, A. M., Petit, A., & Sieber, S. (2015). Mentoring as a way to change a culture of academic bullying and mobbing in the humanities. Higher Education for the Future, 2(2), 139-150. doi:10.1177/2347631115584119

Misawa, M., & Rowland, M. L. (2014). Academic bullying and incivility in adult, higher, continuing, and professional education. Adult Learning, 26(1), 3-5. doi:10.1177/1045159514558415

Nunley, Vorris L. 2011. Keepin’ it hushed: The barbershop and African American hush harbor rhetoric. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University.

Pyke, K. D. (2018). Institutional betrayal: Inequity, discrimination, bullying, and retaliation in academia. Sociological Perspectives, 61(1), 5-13. doi:10.1177/0731121417743816

Sedivy-Benton, A., Strohschen, G., Cavazos, N., & Boden-McGill, C. (2014). Good ol’ boys, mean girls, and tyrants: a phenomenological study of the lived experiences and survival strategies of bullied women adult educators. Adult Learning, 26(1), 35-41. doi:10.1177/1045159514558411

SHARP (Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention) Program. (2012). Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior: What Everyone Needs to Know. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Washington, E. T. (2014). An overview of cyberbullying in higher education. Adult Learning, 26(1), 21-27. doi:10.1177/1045159514558412

Interactive & Lively: Ethics Events in Chicago

The AOM Ethics Education Committee believes that dialogue is critical. As scholars, we need to identify ethical dilemmas and figure out how to study them. As students, academics, and practitioners, we need to figure out how to interpret and act on ethical principles.  In both cases we must wrestle with implications for our own professional and personal lives.

We invite all members– including new and student members– to join us for meaningful discussions. After the conference, we will post the insights and practical strategies that emerge from these sessions.

eec-at-aom-2018

  • Integrity Meets Creativity:
    Keeping Honest in Academic Writing 

    PDW Workshop. Session Sponsor(s): (MED)
    Friday, Aug 10 2018 8:00AM – 10:00AM
    at Hyatt Regency Chicago in Gold Coast

    Moderator: Janet E. Salmons, Vision2Lead
    Presenter: Nancy E. Day, Member & Ombuds Ethics Committee Chair
    Presenter: Rebecca Wendy Frankel, Sage Publications Presenter: Rachel McCullagh Balven, Arizona State U.

    Academic writers must find a balance between presenting original work expressed in our own scholarly voices, and situating that work within the literature of the field. This classic challenge is made more difficult in the cut-and-paste digital age. The AOM Code of Ethics and guidelines for scholarly journals clearly discourage plagiarism. While it is essential to avoid plagiarism, this is a low standard for AOM members, who should be making significant contributions to the advancement of our field. This workshop will focus on promoting originality and honesty in research and writing. We will review intellectual property laws relating to copyright and image permissions that can trip up well-intentioned researchers who seek to publish their work. We will frame the discussion using the originality continuum (Salmons, 2007, in press http://bit.ly/2AEnIwb) that differentiates between writing that is unethical, such as plagiarized writing, and writing that is not only ethical, but creative and nuanced.

  • Ethics Forum — Giving Voice To Values: Being Ethical in a Conflicted World

    Sponsor(s): (AAA)
    Saturday, Aug 11 2018 4:00PM – 5:30PM
    at Hyatt Regency Chicago in Plaza A

    AOM Ethics Forum  Organizer: Janet E. Salmons, Vision2Lead
    Presenter: Mary Gentile, U. of Virginia Darden School of Business

    Giving Voice to Values (GVV) is an innovative approach to promoting a higher level of integrity in education and the workplace. Drawing on actual experience as well as scholarship, GVV fills a long-standing and critical gap in the development of values-centered leaders. GVV is not about persuading people to be more ethical. Rather GVV starts from the premise that most of us already want to act on our values, but that we also want to feel that we have a reasonable chance of doing so effectively and successfully. This curriculum is about raising those odds. In this informal session, GVV founder and director Dr. Gentile will explain the rationale and principles behind this empowering approach to developing the ethical muscles – the skills and confidence – required to voice and act on our values.

  • Ethics Forum — The Internet Challenge to Publishing Ethics

    Sponsor(s): (AAA)
    Saturday, Aug 11 2018 5:45PM – 7:15PM
    at Hyatt Regency Chicago in Plaza A

    Organizer: Janet E. Salmons, Vision2Lead
    Presenter: Benson Honig, McMaster U.

    Publishing ethics evolved in the pre-Internet days. They are essentially a codification of best practice, where best practice reflects the publishing infrastructure of the time. Much as has changed. The Internet has made double blind reviewing more difficult. It poses challenges to authors as well as reviewers. Many conferences now demand that your paper has not presented in other conferences. Are you violating ethics if you present a version of your paper twice, to different audiences? Are you violating ethics if you present some of your results in a webinar, blog, or on social media? This open forum with current and former journal editors will offer the opportunity for a lively discussion about emerging ethical dilemmas for researchers who want to publish and present their work in-person and online.

  • Improving Grad Student Lives: Tools for When You Feel Powerless – Power Issues in AOM and Academia 

    Caucus
    Tuesday, Aug 14 2018 11:30AM – 1:00PM
    at Swissôtel Chicago in Rhone

    Organizers: Deborah M. Mullen, U. of Tennessee, Chattanooga and Rachel McCullagh Balven, Arizona State U.

    This caucus invites students and faculty to engage in a discussion about power issues inherent in graduate education, academia, and AOM. Using cases, the session will explore issue reporting, techniques for resolution, and tools for diffusing situations and self-care. Participants are encouraged to bring cases for discussion.

    Special thanks to the College of Business Ethics Education Initiative at Kansas State University for sponsoring events at this year’s conference!

PDW: Doing Diversity Research and Being a Diversity Scholar: Navigating Academic Careers

In addition to sessions and meetings convened by the Ethics Education Committee, we are pleased to share information about valuable sessions that address important aspects of the AOM Code of Ethics. See this series of posts about conference events.
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If you are attending the Academy meeting this year and interested in diversity scholarship, please consider joining this PDW. Members from all divisions are very welcome. Pre-registration is required for this session. Please contact the workshop organizer tania.jain@sbs.ox.ac.uk to obtain the approval code.
Scheduled: Friday, Aug 10 2018 11:00AM – 1:00PM at Hyatt Regency Chicago in Crystal B

Organizer: Tania JainU. of Oxford
Panelist: Ajnesh PrasadEGADE Business School
Panelist: Banu Ozkazanc-PanU. of Massachusetts, Boston
Panelist: Charlotte M. KaramAmerican U. of Beirut
Panelist: Doyin AtewologunQueen Mary U. of London
Panelist: Eddy S. NgDalhousie U.
Panelist: Regine BendlWU Vienna U. of Economics and Business
Distinguished Speaker: Stella M. NkomoU. of Pretoria
This PDW proposes a rare discussion on navigating the professional complexities that come with doing diversity research and being a diversity scholar, particularly in business schools. It offers a rare opportunity to get behind-the-scenes insights into the professional journeys and career histories of leading diversity scholars in management research today. It will facilitate dialogue on practical realities to begin, sustain, and advance a career as a diversity academic. Participants have a chance for collective reflection about the obstacles and the opportunities that confront their ‘doing’ of diversity scholarship and their ‘being’ as a diversity scholar. The PDW will also advance consideration on how business schools can better support diversity academics in more productive and meaningful ways beyond tokenistic attention. We will discuss the various ways in which our departments’ political climate affects our membership, citizenship, and career advancement and how we can better engage to improve it. The PDW will be particularly useful for advanced doctoral students and early career researchers as they can witness a wide spectrum of possible career paths through the journeys of several role models who blazed the trail to become accomplished scholars in the field.

PDW: And Yet She Persisted: Tools for Succeeding as a Woman Academic

The AOM Ethics Education Committee welcomes the focus on ethics themes by members who are presenting valuable sessions at the annual conference. This is one of the sessions we are highlighting. Find others here. After the conference, we welcome these presenters to share insights, themes, or resources on The Ethicist.

All are cordially invited to this AOM All Academy Theme PDW focusing on the biases women academics face at work and how they overcome them or persist throw them. Bias in the workplace is a both a practical challenge with which many of us grapple, as well as an ethical issue. The AOM Code of Ethics calls us to “respect the dignity and worth of all people” and core to that mission is seeking to remediate the biases in our environments. We would love to add your voices to this conversation.

Women academics face challenging circumstances in their professional lives. Relative to their male colleagues, they can expect longer review times (Hengel, 2016), less credit for their research contributions when working in a team (Sarsons, 2017), biased evaluations of their teaching from students (Mengel, et al., 2017, Boring, et al., 2016), and more. This PDW seeks to raise awareness of the challenges women academics face and to provide some tools to overcome them.

AOM All Academy Theme PDW. Program Session: 581

Scheduled: Sunday, August 12, 10 am – 12:30 pm, Hyatt Regency.

Speaker: Emily Block
Speaker: Donna Blancero
Speaker: Annabelle Gawer
Speaker: Aparna Joshi
Speaker: Sarah Kaplan
Speaker: Xioawei Rose Luo
Speaker: Margaret Neale
Speaker: Kathleen Sutcliffe
Co-Chair: Maria Farkas & Sara Soderstrom

Facilitators: Grace Augustine, Shelby Gai, Kathryn Heinze, Aparna Joshi, Laura Kray, Celia Moore, Jo-Ellen Pozner, & Flannery Stevens

The PDW has two parts:

Part 1: Stories of persistence: Seven accomplished women academics share a story about a challenge they faced in their career and how they overcame it. We will also share findings from a survey on the different experiences of men and women academics in business schools and the tools and resources that enabled them to deal with challenges.

Part 2:  Tools of persistence: In facilitated break-out groups, we will share resources and discuss solutions to particular challenges for women academics. Topics may include: support through professional organizations, sponsorship AND mentorship, mobilizing your university to create support for women academics, self-advocacy, teaching, and research collaborations.

If you wish to attend, please register at this link – And Yet She Persisted Registration. You will be asked to identify your preferred break-out group topic.

The Ethical Professor: PDW & Book for our times!

Longtime readers of The Ethicist blog will remember the substantive writings contributed by the founders and inaugural blog hosts, Lorraine Eden, Kathy Book coverLund Dean, and Paul Vaaler. This experienced team has now collected, updated, and edited their work into a new book, The Ethical Professor: A Practical Guide to Research, Teaching and Professional Life. Could it come at a more timely moment?

Luckily for AOM 2018 attendees, the writers will offer a lively PDW about contemporary ethical issues for professors–  in research, teaching and professional life. Upcoming, new and experienced professors will benefit from this opportunity!

The Ethical Professor: Practical Advice For Ethics in Research, Teaching And Professional Life
All Academy PDW

Sunday, Aug 12 2018 4:00PM – 5:30PM
at Hyatt Regency Chicago in Columbus AB

Come join us for an interactive and practical conversation about ethical issues in academic life. The PDW, and the book on which it is based, are the direct result of “The Ethicist” blog, an Ethics Education Committee (EEC) and AOM leadership “Strategic Doing” initiative begun in 2011. Lorraine, Kathy and Paul served as The Ethicist’s inaugural authors, writing about ethical issues in research, teaching and professional life.

The Ethical Professor: A Practical Guide to Research, Teaching and Professional Life (2018, Routledge) began to take form in 2015, when we stepped down from writing posts. We realized that our years of working and writing blog posts together had created a synergy when read together, providing a conceptual flow that we believed could move to book form. We also believed that a book on ethics in academia would fill a hole in the available resources to doctoral students and young faculty members on how to navigate the tricky waters of a successful academic career. So we selected the best and most useful of our blog posts, rewrote, and updated them as book chapters to reflect the most recent thinking (as of October 2017) on each topic. We also added new chapters to the book to fill missing holes on key topic areas.

The key theme in the book – and in this PDW – is that academic career paths appear to be quite standard and transparent. However, we argue that there are many ethical pitfalls along the academic life cycle in all three of the metrics by which we are judged: research, teaching and service. The ethical dilemmas that can plague each of the steps along the academic career path are often not visible, are generally not discussed with or by the thousands of faculty in the Academy, and are generally not addressed with training on how to spot and handle these ethical issues.

Our All-Academy PDW will create a space for conversation about ethical issues in academe, bringing some of the content from the book to the AOM membership in an interactive format.

We hope that the PDW will bring together individuals within AOM who are passionate about ethics, to talk about how together we might lessen the ethical pitfalls that face all members of the Academy.

Join the EEC in Chicago for thought-provoking events!

Reflect on what matters at Ethics Education Committee events in Chicago!The Ethics Education Committee will offer five opportunities for discussion of contemporary ethics and social responsibility issues in the classroom, research, publication, and professional life. Please join us for PDWs, a caucus, two focused discussion forum sessions, and our annual business meeting.

We welcome everyone, including students, scholar-practitioners, new, early career or career-changing members, international members, and experienced academics. Say hello at the new member event in the vendor area!

​​PDW: Behavioral Ethics Research

This post is part of an invited series, in an effort to share ethics-related opportunities, news, and projects lead by AOM Divisions, Committees, and members.
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Session #313, Title: “Behavioral Ethics Research: A Third Annual Pecha Kucha Springboard and Networking Session.”  Saturday, August 11, 2018 10:45 AM – 2:45 PM. Location: Sheraton Grand Chicago, Sheraton Ballroom II & III.

Organizers:
Niki den Nieuwenboer (U of Kansas)
Marie Mitchell (U of Georgia)
Linda K. Treviño (Penn State)

The field of behavioral ethics examines the causes and consequences of ethical and unethical behavior within organizations. Buoyed by the organizational scandals that continue to come to light, the field is attracting ever more research interest and is starting to diversify in its theoretical foundations and methodologies. Thus, the behavioral ethics community attracts individuals from a broad range of backgrounds and divisions within the Academy of Management.

To enable the behavioral ethics research community to continue to grow and prosper, for the third consecutive time, we are organizing a PDW that offers a platform for all those interested in (un-)ethical behavior within organizations to congregate, mingle, and exchange research ideas. The first half of the PDW features eight timed 5-minute Pecha Kucha style presentations by established and more upcoming scholars in the field. These presentations highlight a broad range of ideas that the presenters believe will push the field forward. The presentations will be followed by a stimulating plenary discussion.

The second half of the PDW will feature nine roundtable topical discussions, hosted by two to three behavioral ethics experts per table.

While all are welcome to attend the first part of the PDW, we ask those who are interested in also attending the round table discussions to register ahead of time, as we only have limited space per table. There are still a few spots left; so if you are interested please email us at niki@ku.edu.

Presenters and experts:
Bruce Avolio (U of Washington)
Max Bazerman (Harvard)
Jon Bundy (Arizona State U)
Katy DeCelles (U Toronto)
Rellie Derfler-Rozin (U of Maryland)
Ryan Fehr (U of Washington)
Rob Folger (U of Central Florida)
Michelle Gelfand (U of Maryland)
Maryam Kouchaki (Northwestern)
Celia Moore (Bocconi)
Tyler Okimoto (U of Queensland)
Mike Pfarrer (U of Georgia)
Lamar Pierce (U of Washington St. Louis)
Ann Tenbrunsel (Notre Dame)
Elizabeth E. Umphress (U of Washington)
Abhijeet Vadera (Singapore Management U
Marius Van Dijke (RSM Erasmus U).

 

 

Call for Papers: Journal of Business Ethics on Historic Corporate Responsibility

This post is part of an invited series, in an effort to share ethics-related opportunities, news, and projects lead by AOM Divisions, Committees, and members.
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Sins of the Fathers:
Organizations and Historic Responsibility
by Robert A. Phillips, Judith Schrempf-Stirling and Christian Stutz

What are the responsibilities of current managers and the organizations they lead for the actions of long ago predecessors? When historians found that forebears of the U.S. bank Wachovia owned slaves, Ken Thompson, chairman and chief executive officer in 2005, publicly apologized stating, “On behalf of Wachovia Corporation, I apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent“. Wachovia has not been the only company – or even the only bank – to publicly apologize for its history. That same year, J.P. Morgan Chase issued an apology and announced it would provide a $5 million scholarship fund for its role in owning slaves who were used as loan collateral.

In 2011, German fashion company Hugo Boss apologized for its use and harsh treatment of forced labourers during World War II. The company’s public statement stressed “its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule.”  Nor is this limited to for profit corporations. In 2017, Yale announced it would rename Calhoun College due to John C. Calhoun’s active support of slavery. While history is in the past, it remains very much in the present. Examples like these raise fundamental questions about the historical actions of organizations and the related responsibility in the present.

We share our history in the form of stories and narratives when we talk about the foundation, origins, developments, changes, and goals of our organizations. Those stories form and express identity and legitimize current activities. Our stories co-create our collective organizational memory. However, stories and narratives are substantially subjective. Due to their own past and experiences and current position, individuals will have different takes on historical and current events – that is, history can be contested. Even when we experience the same event, this does not mean that we think or talk about it in the same way. Different narratives can co-exist about the very same historical events. History, as such, can be a powerful tool. These narratives can be, and often are, used strategically. Non-governmental organizations or activists might (mis-)use history for moralizing purposes to receive greater public attention and support. Corporations may manipulate how the public views past events by sharing only part of the story or discrediting other narratives. Often these organizations are also the stewards of the very documents and artefacts needed to inform our readings of history. Of course, some level of interpretation and selectivity is unavoidable. Examining an organization’s past, how that past is interpreted in the present, and how these sometimes contested interpretations influence today’s managers and organizational stakeholders present fascinating scholarly possibilities.

To provoke and promote deeper examination, we have launched a call for papers for a special issue in Journal of Business Ethics on Historic Corporate Responsibility in which we encourage scholars to consider some of the following pressing questions in relation to organizations and their histories:

  • Can organizations be responsible for the actions of prior generations of leaders and members?
  • What, if anything, can current leaders do to recognize, mitigate or limit responsibility today for past actions?
  • What can leaders today do to affect how they and their organizations are seen in the future? What role can concerns for legacy have in influencing current decisions?
  • What, if any, effect do attempts at re-organization (e.g., acquisition, mergers, bankruptcy, re-branding, changes in leadership, etc.) have on responsibility?
  • Is there a limit to how far back the claims of historic responsibility can go?
  • What would adequate restitution look like? To whom and in what form and magnitude? Can an organization be forgiven? Can an organization apologize and who can accept it?
  • What are the boundaries of past and current organizations? Are there affiliational responsibilities from the past?
  • Who can legitimately speak for the past?
  • What is the role of forgetting and selective memory?
  • What, if any, duty do organizations have to be transparent about their past?
  • Should stigma attach to individuals who were participants in past transgressions? How do we define participants?

Many of our colleagues have been hard at work for many decades within the Academy of Management, particularly within the Management History Division. Tremendous potential remains, however, for exploring how the past continues to affect the sorts of questions that have historically (ahem) been considered part of other domains of the Academy.

The Damage Our Stories Can Create

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

Consider the self-fulfilling prophecy and the role of assumptions and stories in this cycle; two people work together productively for many years, collaborating on a variety of scholarly works. After a while, though, one of them is interviewed for a podcast, and refers to their work as “my” work, and uses “I” in response to the interviewer’s questions. The other, hearing this seemingly selfish appropriation of their collaboration, begins to wonder whether her collaborator really respects her contributions. That doubt, and the subsequent questions about mutual respect, begins to take root in her mind. Concerned that her collaborator may have ulterior motives, she begins to withhold certain ideas, worried that he might take them for his own. He, in turn, begins to wonder why she is suddenly and seemingly less creative and less interested in the collaboration they once enjoyed. It doesn’t take long before they both start looking elsewhere for professional collaboration and stimulation, and a promising and productive relationship begins to die.

Any attorney or police officer will tell you that most people make terrible eye witnesses. Why? Because we rarely have all the facts, but in the same way that nature abhors a vacuum, our minds abhor an incomplete understanding of a situation. So, we intuitively generate stories (we in the social sciences would call them hypotheses) to fill in the gaps. The problem lies in that, all too often, we believe those stories as if they were fact. And unlike the hypotheses we generate in our research, because we think of them as facts, we don’t explore them or test them to find out if they are accurate. Not surprisingly, difficulties inevitably follow.

As Ombuds, an important part of our role and function is to help our visitors to differentiate between fact and story, challenge their stories, explore plausible alternatives, and then determine ways to discover whether and which stories might be true. A key element of this process is to move away from accusation and toward curiosity. Simply differentiating story from fact, and acknowledging that the story might not be true, is often enough to replace pain and accusation with curiosity, leading to questions rather than recriminations.

Strong relationships, whether professional or personal, necessarily require a certain forbearance, a willingness to think of the other with tolerance rather than leaping immediately to the worst possible story when confronted with what seems like ill behavior. Yes, there is risk in that stance, but without it, the risk of unhealthy or sundered relationships may be even greater.

The following passage is attributed to the Buddha: “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” As Ombuds, we would suggest that if the answer to the first question is “possibly not,” then your attitude should properly be one of curiosity, and your subsequent actions should be built around healthy dialogue. With that mindset, many of the issues that come our way each year would quite likely be resolved without the need of a neutral third party.

So, what are your stories about those with whom you work?

Ombuds and “Informality”

by Mary Sue Love, AOM Ombuds

juggling tasksI’ve been struggling with a work decision recently. It may come as no surprise to many mid-career academics, but I was feeling over committed and I needed to let at least one service role go.  I’ve attended meetings and listened to about seven different perspectives on whether to let go of this particular officer role.  I’d have loved to talk in detail with any of these seven people, but I knew their perspectives and I didn’t want to be convinced to stay; I just wanted to sort through all of their points and see how they could help inform my choice.  The problem: I was torn and didn’t really know exactly what I wanted, what my motives were, and what was best for me and the organization I was poorly serving.  I needed someone who would listen and help me clarify my own perspective, not share one more!

Turns out, this is exactly when an Ombuds can be helpful.  Not only must they remain neutral, but being informal is much more than just not taking notes or putting anyone on record. Last year, the AoM Ombuds committee started a series of posts on the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice . AOM Ombuds Greg Stephens started the series with general information on the role of an ombuds; then I wrote about neutrality and impartiality. Nancy Day wrote about confidentiality, then Greg wrote on independence.

I’m finishing our series with a discussion on informality, something I recently turned to an Ombuds for myself.  Last spring, Nancy posted on the topic for her university. She does a great job of defining informality, saying, “being an informal resource means I can help you think about your problem in different ways that may help address it without going through the complications of a formal process such as a grievance. Working with me is off-the-record, and no one will know you’ve been to see me unless you tell them.”  She’s right, according to the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice, informality means we are ‘off the record,’ we don’t make binding decisions, and we do not participate in any formal procedures.

You might ask, then, what can an Ombuds do, and how can one help me decide whether to drop this committee obligation?  Ombuds can listen, help you identify issues, discuss a range of options, reframe things, just like Nancy said in her post. But why is this so powerful?

Renowned psychologist Carl Rogers spoke to this in his 1958 address to the American Personnel and Guidance Association.  Titled “The Characteristics of a Helping Relationship,” and reprinted in his book “On Becoming a Person,” many other places, and here , Rogers describes the undeniable magic that can happen when a person is listened to by another who is genuine, empathetic, and non-judgmental.  In this safe space, the individual is able to speak freely and have her ideas and feelings clarified.  In so doing, Rogers found that patients often were able to develop workable solutions to their own problems.  This was quite a departure from the more prescriptive psychological theories of Rogers’ day.

Today I want to share just how magical it is when someone helps you sort through your own mess of thoughts and feelings to find your own workable solution.  I started my conversation with the Ombuds by sharing the nuts and bolts of my obligations, my thoughts as to why this was the one commitment to let go, and the reasons others thought this was a bad idea on my part.  For the first time in weeks, I was able to talk about the issues without fear of judgment and without being pressured by others. Part of my confusion was in the thought of letting down so many other committed individuals. Yet part of what they weren’t hearing from me was how I felt I was already letting them down by not being able to give the role all the time and dedication it required. About halfway through my second round of being listened to without judgment, I started to hear myself say “I can’t fulfill the obligations of this role and…” The last three times I’d started that sentence, I’d been cut off by one of those seven other perspectives.  However, my informal Ombuds didn’t cut me off, she let me talk through all my mixed motives. So as I listened to the last half of that sentence for the first time, my decision gelled and the force of it resonated within me.

The tone of the conversation changed as I gained enthusiasm and momentum for my decision.  We quickly moved from my fears to real solutions.  By the time we finished the conversation, I had a plan for next steps.  Because I was clear with myself, I was able to articulate my decision to others in a way that helped strengthen the leadership team instead of leaving them in the lurch.  It’s been about six weeks since I made the decision to step down from leadership and focus on the sub-committee work for this fledgling organization. I feel better, obviously, but because I took the time to sort my thoughts and feelings with an Ombuds, I was able to find a resolution that benefitted not just me but the organization too.