Intersections in Ethics – Q&A with Ken Goodpaster and Kathleen Edmond

More than 230 people registered to hear Kathleen Edmond and Kenneth Goodpaster discuss both the theory and practice of business ethics on February 9, 2012. After the event, both speakers provided answers to additional questions posed by the audience.

Kenneth Goodpaster, Ph.D.

Do you think that the extracurricular activity of a Best Buy retail employee is as big of a deal or as closely monitored as, say, a public employee like a teacher or a politician?

In general, I doubt that extracurricular activities in general of private sector employees are monitored as closely as public sector employees. In our discussion, the focus was on extracurricular social media activities, and there it may be that monitoring is done as closely as public sector employees, particularly when the company affiliation is mentioned or implied by the posting (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Companies need to have clear and enlightened policies on this subject -- and they need to enforce them fairly. Free speech is not a constitutional right in the context of employee social media, unless that speech falls under certain specific statutes like the National Labor Relations Act. 

For smaller enterprises, even entrepreneurs, how would you advise formal incorporation of ethics? 

Smaller enterprises have similar challenges to large enterprises when it comes to ethical cultures, although the communication process in smaller enterprises is typically less complex and the modeling of behavior by company leadership is usually more directly evident. You might be interested to know that, for over a decade now, the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas has co-sponsored the MN Business Ethics Awards, which are given to very small, medium-sized and large companies. The application and nomination forms for these awards are the same regardless of company size. See

In 2010, the EEOC reported a 9% increase over 2009 in the number of formal complaints filed. With the business costs for poor ethical conduct so high, why aren’t training programs extending beyond codes of conduct, compliance and mission/values verbiage? 

There is no doubt that corporate training programs need to extend beyond codes and compliance, as the 2003 revision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations emphasized. The increase in the number of formal complaints in a certain area (like EEOC) may or may not correlate directly with instances of unethical conduct, of course. One would need to look at the nature and dispositions of those complaints to see if increases (or decreases) track ethics trends rather than simply complaint reporting frequencies.

Download a set of PowerPoint slides Dr. Goodpaster created to complement his presentation.

Kathleen Edmond

Please share with us how you’ve learned to successfully/effectively “stand alone”?
It is critical to remember that my point of view is not the only one, nor necessarily the “correct” or most informed point of view.  For me, I’d say it’s been helpful to take others’ interests, responsibilities and experience into consideration.  Remember that you are all working toward the best interests of the organization. Personally, it is important for me to separate the role from the person and always remember that disagreements are not directed at me personally. I also have to gauge what is worth fighting about, and what is not that important.

What things have you found work well in getting management on various levels to respect you and your role, and to work with you as business partners?

The keys seem to have been to assume good intent from others, to build the relationships before you need them (or before they are tested by stressful situations), to learn how to respectfully disagree, to understand others’ interest and responsibilities and, finally, to be a part of the solution and responsible for making it work. 
Did you help facilitate Best Buy’s adoption of an extensive recycling program? Is that an ethical issue?

The recycling program was actually initiated years ago by our excellent community affairs team. They have grown and developed it over the years.  We do discuss our responsibility to the environment in our Code of Business Ethics.

Do you think that the extracurricular activity of a Best Buy retail employee is as big of a deal or as closely monitored as, say, a public employee like a teacher or a politician?

It depends. Two real life situations:  if an employee has a side business that directly competes with the work of Best Buy (such as electronics repair) and refers Best Buy customers to his / her own business – yes, this is a big deal. If a Best Buy employee is wearing their blue shirt and destroys public property or vandalizes a local business, even though “off the clock” – yes, it is a big deal. Our corporate name and reputation are a big deal, and we take these types of behaviors seriously.

For smaller enterprises, even entrepreneurs, how would you advise formal incorporation of ethics?

The most important thing is “tone from the top.” Owners, entrepreneurs and leaders must do what they say they will do, be approachable and willing to listen to others' concerns, acknowledge mistakes and find opportunities to talk about the importance of ethics and integrity.

Do you think it was ethical of Best Buy to use eminent domain to build its headquarters?

I think this was a classic situation where there were many stakeholders with varying interests, some of which aligned and some that were opposed. I would analyze it using a stakeholder model. I have not done that, and was not working at Best Buy when the decision was made.

Isn’t it a contradiction that Best Buy’s agents don’t have a voice when representing the ethics department when open dialogue is encouraged?

On the contrary, the agents have an active and important voice representing the ethics office. Our role is to analyze, teach, help illuminate the issues and work toward resolution.  This is not a bully pulpit for our personal points of view (mine included).