Proceedings of the International Association for Business and Society

Volume 25, 2014

Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting

Linda M. Sama, R. Mitch Casselman
Pages 71-81

Ethical Foresight in Business: Interpreting Societal Cues for Better Ethical Management

This paper applies concepts of foresight to the ethical decision-making and the strategic management of organizational ethics programs. The approach views the intersection of business and society as a permeable frontier in which there is an iterative, ongoing exchange of information between various stakeholders. We view the ethical culture of an organization as an anticipatory system in which a predictive model of the systems future plays a role in the current behavior of the participants. This suggests that network or feedback causality can provide a theoretical link between a strategic vision of a future ethical state and behavior within the current ethical culture. Using this theory we develop a model for organizational ethics programs that argues for a long-term and widely dispersed view of the organization within its environment. The theory and the resulting model suggest a role for ethical foresight as a method to stave off ethical crises of societal import and to encourage a business-society interface that is ongoing, rather than one enacted only when a major ethical disaster emerges. This redefines the business-society relationship and puts the onus on the organization to continually interpret societal cues through dialogue and interaction and to reflect on internal organizational processes and decisions that may have contributed to ethical digressions in the past.