“At this moment, America's highest economic need is higher ethical standards….” (Former U.S. President George W. Bush, 2002). That statement was made in the aftermath of the Enron and WorldCom fiascos in the early 2000s. Seven years later, newly elected U.S. President Obama (2009) said in his inauguration speech “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” There is a repeated calling to increase the understanding of how to make “hard choices.” It is the leadership of an organization that is one of the most important components of an organization's ethical culture (Brown and Treviño, 2006; Treviño, 1990) and researchers have called for additional studies “to identify the factors that influence the levels of moral judgment used in the workplace” (Loviscky, Treviño, and Jacobs, 2007, p.276).
The purpose of this study was to explore the relationships between values, organization culture perceptions, and managerial moral reasoning. Data for this study were collected from 100 managers from a variety of industries and organizations through an online survey. Using a Likert-scale, the Schwartz Values Survey (SVS) (Schwartz, 1992) measured four meta-values and ten value types. A 12 item version of the Likert-scale Competing Values Framework (CVF) (Quinn and Rohrbaugh, 1983) was used to measure four different organization culture perceptions. Cognitive moral development was assessed by the Managerial Moral Judgment Test (MMJT) (Loviscky, Treviño, and Jacobs, 2007) which determined levels of moral reasoning using six workplace scenarios asking respondents to make a decision and then both rate and rank the decision criteria. Respondents also provided demographic data (industry, organization size, managerial level, gender, and year of birth).
This study provides a contribution to the understanding of the variables that impact the level of moral reasoning in the workplace. Statistically significant results were found, however, the magnitude of importance for the results when interpreting effect size was generally low. Significant correlations were found between cognitive moral development and two meta-values (conservation and self-transcendence), two value types (tradition and benevolence), and one organization culture perception (hierarchy). In addition, several regression models were developed that included meta -value, value type and organization culture perception variables predicting cognitive moral development. The result with the greatest practical significance for organizations was the regression model where hierarchy culture, achievement and power were combined (R2=.192). In this condition, organizations with hierarchy cultures and managers who value achievement and power, organizations are predicted to see lower levels of managerial moral reasoning at play.
Finally, distinct group differences emerged from studying gender, industry, and organization size. There were 17 group differences found in the study. Only one gender difference was found and only one group difference was found between age groups. However, eight group differences were found when industry was analyzed and seven group differences were found when organization size was considered. No group differences were found in the analysis of managerial level. This study raises additional questions about the antecedents to managerial moral reasoning in the workplace as well as group differences. Further research is needed to explore if and how additional variables beyond values and organization culture impact moral reasoning at work as we strive to better understand managerial moral judgment.