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Inspiration and Cynicism in Values Statements

Joel E. Urbany
Journal of Business Ethics
Vol. 62, No. 2, Contemporary Ethical Issues in Accounting, Finance, Management and Marketing (Dec., 2005), pp. 169-182
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25123655
Page Count: 14
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Inspiration and Cynicism in Values Statements
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Abstract

The adoption of codes of ethics or values statements is intended to guide everyday decisions, as well as to influence the perceptions of external stakeholders. Questions have emerged in the literature about whether the effort to substantively direct decision-making in an organization is marginalized by the more obvious symbolic role of values statements. Here the perceived impact of values statements (defined broadly) on decision-making in organizations is explored, and a number of positive effects observed. Respondents report that values statements create positive externalities providing guidelines for decision-making, increasing accountability, and clarifying expectations. Yet, both cynicism and perceived management hypocrisy emerged in the survey, which together had strong negative effects on the perceived decision-making impact of values statements. Finally, positive external effects (e.g., more symbolic effects) are almost never mentioned by respondents who give their firms high marks on the quality of values statement development, training, and implementation. Yet, such external effects get significantly greater representation in the comments of respondents who report less substance in their firms' values statement development and implementation processes. In all, the results suggest that the substantive and symbolic roles of values statements are not independent and that external symbolism without internal legitimacy may in the long-run be problematic.

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