Everyday ethics rule the day at next Faculty Lecture

UND Management Professor Sean Valentine to present research on business dilemmas and decision-making surrounding them

Sean Valentine (center), professor of management in the College of Business & Public Administration, is giving a lecture on the ethical issues people face in everyday life, and the process behind ethical decision-making, on Wednesday. His talk is the finale of the 2018-19 Faculty Lecture Series. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

A mention of ethical scandals takes one’s mind to what they might see on the news, or what they read in The Wall Street Journal.

Names like Equifax, one of the big three credit reporting agencies that had a major data breach, and Wells Fargo, a massive bank caught in the creation of millions of fraudulent accounts, captured headlines for months following their blunders.

Sean Valentine says ethical dilemmas in business are much more common than we think. Every day, people face small, “micro-issues” whether they concern honesty, teamwork or workplace morale.

When he gets in front of classes to address this, he sees the light bulbs turn on. Students realize they see ethical issues all the time.

“Sometimes people don’t think about something as being an ethical issue because it relates to equity or fairness, as opposed to theft – something that’s really obvious,” Valentine said, who is a professor of management at the UND College of Business & Public Administration. “It’s actually a broad field of issues.”

His upcoming talk is the final installment of this year’s Faculty Lecture Series, where UND professors and researchers take their expertise beyond the classroom.

“Managing Ethics in Organizations: Current Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges” is at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Mar. 27, in the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. A reception will precede the event at 4 p.m.

Valentine uses empirical, data-driven research to examine workplace bullying, leadership, corporate-ethical values and even psychopathy. He plans to outline factors like these as he discusses ethics in the workplace. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Psychology of ethics

After structuring his dissertation around business ethics, Valentine found a passion for the topic.

In a world where companies don’t always do the right thing, there has to be something done about it, he says. Valentine plans to provide an overview of the ethical decision-making process, and the factors that affect how people handle everyday quandaries. He’ll incorporate real-world processes used by companies to promote ethical-decision making, as well as elements of his research.

“A lot of my research is empirical, data-driven and statistically-driven,” he said. “We’ve collected data and tested it with real respondents and subjects from real companies.”

Valentine examines workplace bullying, leadership, corporate-ethical values and even psychopathy in his research. He acknowledges that a certain percentage of successful executives are what he calls “successful psychopaths” – manipulative, Machiavellian leaders who create havoc to advance their own interests at the expense of others.

An important realization within the topic of ethics is that much of it concerns cognitive and social psychology, according to Valentine. He spends considerable time looking at how environment and social context shapes ethical values and ethical reasoning.

His research into the process of business ethics examines factors such as personality, work attitudes, organizational commitment and job involvement, and how those factors enhance each step: recognizing ethical issues, making a judgment, developing intentions – all building toward visible behavior or action.

Many make the assumption that values form at a young age and stay consistent, but Valentine’s research behind the steps of this process show that change is possible. Moral development can be enhanced well into one’s 30s and 40s.

“In tests with real respondents, the empirical evidence shows you can make incremental improvements in ethical reasoning through those factors,” he said. “It actually does some good.”

Though he can’t narrow his favorite teaching topic, Valentine enjoys working with the students of UND. He remains inspired by their work ethic and respect for the learning environment. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Joy to teach

After nearly 11 years of teaching at UND, Valentine loves what he does and where he does it. Business ethics is his on-paper subject expertise, but the interconnection of ethical practices links him with accountants, human resource managers, marketers and managers. Though perhaps in the same College, Valentine considers it interdisciplinary.

“The models and frameworks are the same,” he said. “It’s the context that changes.”

His teachings span undergraduate and graduate programs, and he finds it difficult to identify a teaching topic that he considers to be a favorite – saying it’s all “part and parcel.” It’s the students who make it fun, he says. Their regular displays of solid work ethic and utmost respect for the learning environment maintain Valentine’s passion for instruction.

“I’ve been a few places,” he said of his education career. “The students here have been a joy to teach; that’s why I’m here.”