Last month, CEBC conducted its fifth session in the series Beyond Compliance: Conversations about Strategies and Practices for Sustaining Ethical Cultures, focused on the role that balancing the interests of stakeholders plays in shaping and sustaining ethical cultures. Member company representatives from a range of disciplines participated.

Our conversation starter was Kenneth Goodpaster, Ph.D., holder of the Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics at the Opus College of Business. Ken traced the evolution of the role of the corporation from the classic Milton Friedman “stockholder management” approach to a more contemporary “stakeholder management” approach favored by leaders in the academic, business and non-government communities.

Goodpaster then stretched the group by exploring what lies “beyond stakeholder approaches” with a number of provocative questions. Are there deeper societal needs and interests that business shares a responsibility in addressing? Does a sole focus on the organization’s existing stakeholders create gaps that do not take into consideration these emerging societal needs and interests? What is the responsibility of business in defining and addressing these emerging societal needs and interests? Is business a collaborator with others? If so, who else sits at the table? Who convenes the meeting?

A lively debate ensued examining a range of views. One view underscored the important role that business plays in society today with “beyond stakeholder” thinking a natural evolution. Another view questioned whether business should be imposing its views in the identification and determination of societal needs and interests. Yet another perspective questioned the practicality of introducing a “beyond stakeholder” discussion into business when it is focused on the realities of the current economic environment.

At the heart of the discussion was a recognition that the purpose of the corporation has continued to evolve. The group departed thinking about the challenges, the opportunities and possibilities of moving “beyond stakeholder management.”

In our upcoming session on April 27, we will explore the next area of the CEBC model for building and sustaining ethical culture … creating a long-term perspective.

Members of CEBC can register for the next session »

This post comes from the latest edition of the CEBC Newsletter, The Business Ethics Exchange.