What kinds of laws govern organizations?

When I first read the final paper guidelines, I felt a little intimidated by the open-ended nature of the assignment. So far, we’ve been given pretty specific direction; yet have still been given some freedom in constructing our topics. So, at first, this assignment seemed a little daunting. Thinking about everything we’ve read in Scott and Davis, the convoluted story of Enron, the numerous articles we have discussed – it seems nearly impossible to tie everything together under one umbrella. Then class today happened…

Our discussion today about morality versus political law and which applies to certain situations got me thinking about what truly governs any organization. Sure, it can be assumed that a formal organization is governed by a law that ensures that it operates within the limits of what is deemed acceptable and what is not. At Enron, for example, laws were broken, so the organization crumbled. Companies are regulated and audited on a regular basis, and knowing this presumably influences them to act in accordance with the law. In this regard, I refer to the law in the actual legal sense of the word. But is this what actually dictates the behavior of individuals within an organization?

What about the “laws” we read about in Scott and Davis? Those aren’t necessarily laws in the legal sense, but Scott and Davis offer several examples of how societal law governs organizations. Perhaps these laws are the primary dictators of the behavior of individuals within organizations. For example, in chapter 8 they discuss power and authority and how it is naturally achieved within organizations. Obviously I am not saying that legal laws can be tossed out the window when it comes to evaluating an organization, but I do think that laws (such as the ones discussed in Scott and Davis) that are not necessarily defined by some political entity or law-making force can have just as much control over an organization.

To get back to where today’s discussion comes in, someone raised the point today that we, as American citizens, agree to abide by a certain set of rules, simply by choosing to live here. What about as human beings? Is there an innate moral code that we agree to by being born? If yes, how does this help govern an organization? This one is interesting because if we can agree that there is some moral code that we subscribe to as human beings, it kind of implies that we have the option to “unsubscribe.” Personally I don’t think we do, but I wonder if there is any evidence out there that some people think we do. I plan to investigate how this might change an organization.

This is obviously a very preliminary idea considering it didn’t pop into my head until around 5 pm, but I just wanted to throw some thoughts down. If anyone has any feedback, criticisms, advice, etc., I welcome it and would definitely appreciate it!

7 Responses

  1. I agree that we don’t subscribe to the moral code just by being born. I think as we grow and develop within a society we adapt to the code of the culture. I was brought up in a very conservative home (if you couldn’t tell by what I was arguing today) and my parents and other family members have had a huge impact on what I consider to be moral and immoral. Not everyone in the United States shares the same beliefs as me on the innate wrongness of killing someone for personal advancement. I believe that the rights we have as Americans come at a cost. We are supposed to abide by the laws of the land whether we think they are moral or not. The benefit of living in a free country is that there is an opportunity for change and amendments to our laws.

  2. Holly, I’d look back on your notes from 312 with Jamie last semester. The different ideas on morality like the ‘social contract’ may be interesting to apply to org theory. Maybe the most basic question is, does morality play a role in the organizing and structuring of a business?

  3. Natural Law Ethics states (1) There are fundamental principles of right and wrong that bind human beings of every nationality (2) These principles are based on human nature; we cannot help but value the good these principles protect (3) All humans are aware of these fundamental principles, and come to know them through reason.
    That being said, we cannot unsubscribe these fundamental moral principles.

  4. You are going to get a range of answer to this one!

    I always start with behavior, with what can be observed. There is lots of research recently about neuroscience, about cognition, and how it relates to a sense of ethics or fairness. One study I have heard of found that monkeys would chooses to punish another monkey who took more than its fair share of bananas.

    So, a paper that looked at how our biologically grounded sense of fairness interacts with the history of bureaucracy and capitalist pressures of firms and people to maximize self-interest would be fascinating.

    That is just one specific question. You can develop others around this topic. The general topic is great. Now you can start narrowing down. How fun!

  5. Personally, I think there is an inherent social or moral aspect that individuals bring to an organization that affects how the entity is governed. To me, this makes sense because most of the organizations that people participate in become an extension of their own identity. Additionally, because individuals create organizations, they can choose which codes their organization will adhere to. I also think the extent to which an organization follows a certain moral code depends on the type of goals it is trying to meet, i.e. non-profit vs. corporation.

  6. Thank you guys for the feedback! Dave you’re right I could definitely probably use some stuff from last semester with Jamie in this paper. Leah that’s really interesting about organizations becoming an extension of our own identities…I guess that would explain how the culture of an organization can change as certain people come in and out. And Megan in response to your post I completely agree that we have a responsibility to abide by the laws of the land…for the most part. I forget what the name of the dilemma is but have you ever heard of that situation where the guy’s wife has cancer and the drugs are astronomically/unfairly expensive, so he’s faced with whether or not to steal them in order to save her? I’m not really sure what my stand is on this but it at least makes me think twice about whether or not we ALWAYS should abide by laws. Jordi I have actually not heard of the monkey case but I am going to look it up…I LOVE psychological experiments. Thanks again guys!!

  7. […] and the Globalizati…bucknelldave on My participation isn’t l…Holly Boyle on What kinds of laws govern…Leah on Organizing Online Social …Leah on From the Ground UpLeah on […]

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