Morality in Learning Organisations LO18084

Ben Compton (
Tue, 12 May 1998 11:19:30 -0500

Replying to LO17812 --

Rol & John,

I'm sorry to take so long to reply to both of your messages on the
question of morality and learning organizations.

Rol points out the potential difference between an individuals moral (and
ethical) beliefs, and an organizations.

John points out that the example I gave was symptomatic of "fear" and not
necessarily the morality of an organization.

I think the two issues are closely related.

First I recognize the difference between an individuals moral beliefs and
an organizations. I think this is an important difference, because I'm not
sure any one person has the right (or even the power) to enforce their own
moral beliefs within an organization.

Second I do think that an organizations sense of moralit (or their concept
of right and wrong) is related to its survivability.

The point John made about "fear" being a problem iis an excellent way of
pointing out what I consider to be a moral shortcoming in many

My definition of morality (which is closely linked to the concept of
freedom) is the ability of a person to work toward achieving what they
value most, without interfering with others doing the same. This
definition precludes the use of "force" as a tool for achievement.

The word force can mean many different things, but I use it in a rather
broad sense. I do not merely mean force as in physical coercion; I mean
force as in any tool used that intentionally diminishes the options
available to a person. Phsychological tools such as manipulation, brain
washing, and the threat of retribution all fit in my category of "force."

The fear that John speaks is a product of this type of force, especially
manipulation and the threat of retribution. To the extent that management
achieves its goals through the use of force, I think it is immoral (not in
the sense that it deserves legal action or social punishment, but rather
in the sense that it is an organization that cannot be trusted and loved
by those who comprise it). I further think that managers that resort to
this sort of tactic are quite dispicable people!

On the other hand I recognize how incredibly difficult it is to achieve a
goal without resorting to some sort of force. The effort required to get
people moving in the same direction and at a similar speed is tremendous.
But it's difficulty is not an excuse for resorting to force!

People feel fear because they recognize that their job could be in
jeopardy, or because they could lose a pay raise, or any number of other
punitive possibilies sit out on the horizon. This type of negative
motivation is good for nothing, and will tend to decrease the performance
of an organization.

I think of this is the context of parenting, and realize just how hard it
is for me to raise children who do the right thing because it is right and
because they want to instead doing it out of the fear of punishment. I ask
my daughter if she can sweep the kitchen floor, and I get a bunch of flak:
"How come? Why do I always have to do the chores? Why don't you do more?"
My instinct is to say, "Do it or go to your room," but instead I say, "Why
do you think that I don't do chores? Who did the laundry last night? Who
vacuumed the house this morning? Who cleaned the bathroom on Saturday?"
Once she starts thinking, I then ask her, "Why do you feel you're the only
one who has to do chores? How could I ask you better so you're not so

Sometimes it takes me an hour to get my daughter to sweep the kitchen
(despite the fact that it's been on her chore chart for 6 months!) but
everytime she does it because she sees its the right thing to do, not
because she's going to be punished if she doesn't do it.

Some of my friends have told my wife and I that we let our daughter "talk
back" to much, and that we need to use a more firm hand in raising her. We
disagree; we both come from very coercive environments where we were
unable to question anything. We work very hard to create an open and
communicative environment. And it's paying off. Our daughter does more and
more on her own, without requiring direction, and does it without
complaining. This is the goal we've worked toward. (In fact the other day
I came home from work and found my study had been cleaned; all my papers
had been properly filed, my desk organized, and the books that had
littered the floor around my desk had been book marked and put back on the
shelves. My daughter did this to show that 'she loved me.')

Yes I think that resorting to force (or the use of fear) is easier than
taking a more rational approach to management, but I think the long-term
benefits are much greater.

Is this a moral issue? Perhaps not in the purest sense. Is it an ethical
issue? I think so. Do I think managers who use force are unethical? Yes.

But this is just one example of immoral behavior within an organization.
There are other, more obvious and drastic examples. This one, however,
touches on the day to day operations of an organization and therefore is
important to me and those I work with.

Benjamin Compton
GroupWise Engineer
DWS -- "The GroupWise Integration Specialists"
A Novell Platinum Partner

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>