The Influence of Culture
Ethical norms and values that compete with the altruistic approach depends on many factors, but cultural factors such as upbringing, religion, philosophical outlook, education, and normative dos and don'ts prevalent in the society all play a key role in influencing and shaping ethical values. Many organizations have a distinct culture, which among other things shapes its ethical outlook.
Religious morals play a major role in determining what is right or wrong in almost all societies. For instance, much of the conventions on moral rights or wrongs in America are based on the Judeo-Christian heritage or the Ten Commandments specifically, even if the society remains vastly secular. In China, the sayings of Confucius may replace Judeo-Christian heritage as the yardstick to determine moral rights and wrongs. Similarly, in much of the Middle East, Islamic teachings serve as the yardstick to determine right and wrong. Applying such religious morals, a project manager working under a tight deliverable schedule in Dubai may face an ethical dilemma of asking an employee to work overtime on Friday, the Muslim holy day, and the weekly day off in the country. The same ethical dilemma in the United States changes to asking an employee to work on weekends to meet deadlines. This dilemma is regardless of the decision, and independent of workplace diversity requirements.
The Protestant work ethics or Puritan work ethic that placed value on hard work as a component of a person's calling and worldly success as a result of personal salvation rather than the other way around, influenced decision making considerably in 17th Century Europe and was a guiding spirit in the spread of mercantilism and commerce. Protestant work ethics have led to incorporation of values such as hard work, effective working practices, and self-reliance as bedrocks of work ethics in the American and Western society. Similarly, values such as "One good deed deserves another," "A gentleman's word is his bond," and "give the Devil his due," all shape work ethics. For instance, a project manager having verbally committed to a bonus at the completion of the project may find compelled to honor the commitment, even when project scope had ensured that the project actually ended in heavy loss for the company, and there remained no legal or contractual basis for such a bonus.
All people apply ethics, but the values that shape ethics, such as stability, conformity, precision, endurance, security, reliability, tradition, or established power depend on factors such as the societal norms, circumstances of upbringing, time spent during formative years, and more. For instance, Saddam Hussein applied ethical principles just as Americans do, the difference being American ethics centered on societal core values such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness whereas Saddam’s ethical yardstick was loyalty and subservience to his Baath party.
The impact of culture on decision making also permeates to other levels. A person’s education level and worldliness may for instance shape decision-making skills. People with low education and low awareness usually fall to scams such as money-chain frauds and Ponzi schemes. Such people on acquiring wealth and becoming business owners tend to assume high-risk projects. In contrast, people with education and awareness may proceed with caution, undertaking a thorough risk analysis before deciding on a project. Similarly, educated white-collar employees may understand the importance of meeting deadlines and remain amenable to overtime where uneducated blue-collar employees may place high value on their assigned weekends, come hell or high water.
The influence of culture on ethics is fundamental to the extent people with different cultural value systems remain confused, frustrated, and even aghast at the decisions made by others. For instance, a U.S. business partner may find it difficult to understand his Indian business partner's decision to let go of a lucrative business opportunity as the group to which the Indian partner belonged to does not rate the project highly. Similarly, Japanese may find it unsettling when the policies of a U.S. company change along with the management.
Ethics and culture affect decision making and organizations that understand this fact and try to improve the quality of their decisions by articulating a clear-cut ethics policy and shaping culture to the desired values, remain in good stead to succeed.