The “How” of Ethics in Business and Beyond
Mary C. Gentile, PhD is Creator/Director, Giving Voice To Values and Professor of Practice, University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to share this post on Giving Voice to Values by GRLI Associate Mary Gentile, as a highly-aligned and recommended approach for developing Global Responsibility in practice within education and organizational settings.
Giving Voice to Values (GVV) is an innovative approach to values-driven leadership development that fills a long-standing critical gap in the development of values-centered professionals.
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 pedagogy and curriculum are about raising those odds.
Rather than a focus on ethical analysis, the Giving Voice to Values (GVV) curriculum focuses on ethical implementation and asks the question: “What if I were going to act on my values? What would I say and do? How could I be most effective?”
GVV has now had over 1,080 pilots in educational and organizational settings on all seven continents. Pilot sites have included the U.S., Europe, Africa, India, China, Australia, Canada, Israel, United Arab Emirates, etc.
Although we developed GVV as a means to address the values conflicts faced by business practitioners — particularly those conflicts that we saw new MBA graduates encountering in their professions — we have been astounded and gratified by the spread of this action-based approach across professions, as well as around the world.
There are new books on GVV in the Law and in Healthcare. The work has been featured in numerous United Nations programs and there are translations of the book and/or selected curricular materials into Mandarin, Russian, Korean and now forthcoming in Arabic.
The core idea behind this exciting approach is a very simple and accessible — yet powerful — idea: simply put, that “practice makes perfect.” That is, we have traditionally approached ethical challenges as if they were matters of cognitive understanding. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone exclaim: “We just need a decision-making framework, an analytical model.” It is as if we could plug our decision into one end and then the “right, ethical answer” would pop out the other, and then we would be all set!
But in my three decades of work in the field of business ethics and values-driven leadership, I have seen that “ethical analysis” — or knowing the “right thing to do” — is not the only or even the primary challenge. Rather there are so many cases every day when we know what we believe is appropriate or ethical or responsible, but we do not feel confident that we can act on that knowledge effectively. And so we stop ourselves before we even begin. In fact, current research suggests that we tend to act immediately, out of emotion, and then rationalize post-hoc about how our choice was the only or even the right thing to do — and this all happens automatically and unconsciously, as if we are pre-wired in this way.
The Giving Voice To Values approach to values-driven action works to “re-wire” this connection. GVV does not ask “what is the right thing to do in a particular situation?” (the cognitive question), but rather it asks, “Once you know what is right, how do you get it done?” This is the “GVV Thought Experiment” — we don’t ask someone what would they do until they have had the chance to generate actual options.
By pre-scripting, rehearsing, peer coaching our various possible responses to the “GVV Thought Experiment,” we build the confidence and the competence and even the “habit” of voicing and acting on our values — effectively.
And how gratifying to see this approach spreading not only geographically but also across professions, since the major values conflicts of our time are not exclusively moral questions for business but rather are boundary-spanning questions that reach into law, medicine, engineering, and the realm of government.
Associates of GRLI have used the Giving Voice to Values approach in different settings and organizations. Please contact us to learn more about these experiences.
Some endorsements for Giving Voice to Values:
“Giving Voice to Values heralds a revolution in ethics education… It’s like a self-defense class for your soul.”
— Dan & Chip Heath, authors of Switch & Made to Stick
“…a wonderful guide to help us enter an era of responsibility & leadership based on values.”
— Walter Isaacson, Former CEO of Aspen Institute and CNN; Author of Steve Jobs
“…the most significant contribution to business ethics I’ve experienced in my professional career… destined to shape the behavior of future generations in ways that should make us all much prouder of business as an entity and management as a career.”
— Leonard A. Schlesinger, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School and Former President, Babson College
Mary C. Gentile, PhD is Creator/Director, Giving Voice to Values and Professor of Practice, University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
Reach Mary at GentileM@darden.virginia.edu.