Title: The Business of Ethics
One of the most attractive features of teaching in the Marshall School of Business, by my lights, is the opportunity that all faculty members have to focus on business and professional ethics in their curriculum. Popular opinion sometimes has it that linking the words "business" and "ethics" is impractical. This has been neither my experience nor that of my students. They and I believe that it is possible to practice business and the professions with integrity. To treat all of one’s stakeholders—be they customers, clients, employees, the community, or anyone else associated with one’s business—in ethical fashion is eminently doable. Not only that, but it also redounds to the credit of the ethical practitioner. Finally, it provides a businessperson with a sense of personal satisfaction that may otherwise be elusive.
I can also offer that ethical business practices actually constitute good business. This is an instrumental approach, but the truth remains that to treat stakeholders with honesty and fairness is to increase one’s chances for success. That's because the businessperson who has a reputation for ethical practice is far more likely to attract clients and customers. For proof of this, we need look no farther than ourselves. With whom would we rather partner in business—the person of his or her word or the one who plays fast and loose with the truth? Put another way, would we choose to do business with someone who cheats others? Would we not then fear that he or she would treat us in precisely the same way?
So in a cynical age in which some insist that ethics has a place only outside of one’s professional life, we experience a different climate here in Marshall. We choose to be known as a business school that trains future leaders in the philosophy that the ends never justify the means. Rather, it’s the other way around in that the means ennoble the ends. Without honorable means, in other words, the ends become bankrupt.
Ethical business practices, of course, are conditioned by the time, place, and culture in which we live. This is reflected here in Marshall by the many international students that are present. Still, this variety of backgrounds actually gives us a laboratory of global perspectives within which to engage questions of business ethics. There's no guarantee that an entrepreneur in Denver will understand business ethics in the same sense that one in Abu Dhabi will. Similarly, business ethics has a somewhat different meaning now in the twenty-first century than it had in 1950. And at the same time, religion and family moral traditions also influence the way in which we approach business.
Admittedly, it's complex stuff, but some objective standards still emerge irrespective of geography, chronology, or varying social standards. To treat others with courtesy and respect is a value that transcends all of these human differences. Dishonest and rapacious business practices are going to be framed as outside the norm in all societies. That is not to say that they won’t occur, whether the site is Shanghai or San Francisco. Yet in neither city will they be embraced as normative.
All of this suggests the environment that I try to establish in class. I want to engage my students in a dialogue in which we explore the costs and values of the ways in which they intend to manage their businesses. Will they choose to engage in practices that may yield short-term advantages but long-term penalties? Will they obey the law in their business environment only to the extent that they stay out of jail, or will they go beyond the law in order to fashion a reputation that serves them well over the length of their careers?
I have found students—and my faculty colleagues, as well—to be greatly interested in these issues. Rather than paying lip service to business ethics simply because they think it is expected of them, they appreciate that each of us makes choices about the way in which we’ll engage with our profession and the perceptions that we wish others to have of us. Most of my students understand that material, psychological, and emotional rewards are at stake in the manner in which they choose to practice business, and they are eager to consider what each of these means to them.
We make no claim to come to definitive answers about these matters. That requires more than a semester or even the length of a degree program. After all, we speak about the practice of business because it genuinely is a lifelong endeavor. No foundational question about the way in which one will live one’s life—and these sorts of questions about career practices truly are foundational—permits a quick and clean answer arrived at in a morning’s work. Still, I believe that simply to raise the questions is an essential beginning. Our students will have many occasions to consider these points further, and they’re entitled to some false starts, too. As I tell them, if we’ve come to some incorrect decisions about the best ways ethically to practice business, we’ll simply have to gather again in a half-century or so back in Hoffman or Popovich Halls and reconsider them!
Title: Adapting Business Communication for the International Community
Everybody agrees that workplace communication can be tricky to navigate, but you can only imagine how complex it can be when people who work together come from different countries. According to Workforce 2020 trend report, four of every five new jobs in the United States are generated as a direct result of international business. Researchers estimate that 10 percent to 45 percent of U.S. workers fail in their global assignments (i.e., return prematurely)—with the highest failure rates associated with assignments in developing countries.
The dominance of the Western paradigm in doing business has recently been questioned by many in the field of international business. At a CIBER Language conference at the Wharton School of Business last year, Arthur J. Rothkopf, Senior VP of Education and Workforce Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Doing business in English is a thing of the past. Other countries stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and we need to produce future business leaders who will be able to successfully compete in the new global marketplace.” Rothkopf’s words stayed with me as I was getting more familiar with Marshall’s efforts to provide each student with global experiences and expose them to the world of global business through unparallel global programs.
Research in international business predicts a new type of leader given an increasingly global world – a culturally sensitive, cosmopolitan leader. This new type of business leader is required to bridge cultural barriers to overcome differences based upon people’s learned cultures. He or she must create cultural synergy and lead cultural change in organizations. This leader must focus on intercultural business communication skills and develop sensitivities that can be transferred across cultural lines.
My fascination with cultural differences began when I first studied pragmatics, a subfield of linguistics that studies how context influences meaning. I later expanded my interest to sociolinguistics to include effects extending beyond the linguistic context to broader societal issues and their impact on communication. Since I started teaching at Marshall in 2000, I became increasingly interested in cultural differences in business interactions.
I was very fortunate to find a colleague at CMC who shared similar interests. Robyn Walker and I have started our research program looking at mixed teams in decision-making meetings. Our research has true grass-roots beginnings: questions arose from observing student groups at Marshall and watching how, in mixed teams, American students outspoke and linguistically outperformed students from Asian countries. This pattern of communicative dominance intensified as Asian students became a minority in the group, leading us to conclude that more than mere language proficiency inhibited the Asian students’ speaking performance. Rather, it was the ownership of the cultural norms, the cultural value system, and the Western leadership style that deeply affected team dynamics and prompted American students to be more vocal and dominant.
My research has continuously informed my teaching, and I found myself talking about intercultural business communication skills in many of my communication classes. Yet the real opportunity was still ahead of me – to develop a follow-up elective that focuses exclusively on building intercultural competencies and is positioned as a follow-up to short-term global programs, such as LINC, GLP, and global summer internships. Research on experiential learning points to the immense benefits of short-term exposure to foreign countries. Short-term trips abroad provide valuable experiential learning in developing students’ intercultural knowledge. Many experts on experiential training agree that the debriefing that follows the activity is an important process designed to synergize, strengthen, and transfer learning from the experiential exercise. Ironically, it is also the most often overlooked part of the experiential learning process. A 2-unit elective seemed like a natural fit to accomplish this objective within the existing structure of Marshall global programs.
BUAD 499, “Business Communication across Cultures,” a 2-unit elective, is offered for the first time in Fall 2011. The course brings together international business and intercultural communication to build key competencies central to understanding how businesses work across cultures. My goal is to help students reflect, translate, and transfer knowledge and experiences they had as part of their global program across different cultural contexts and interpersonal interactions to successfully compete in a new global marketplace. The course will focus on three key groups of intercultural competencies: knowledge (needed to live and work in a diverse world); skills (tolerance of ambiguity, behavioral flexibility, and communicative awareness), and personal attributes (empathy, flexibility and respect for otherness). We are ready to embark on the journey of discovery through readings, simulations, role plays, self-assessment, and training videos.
Title: Using Technology to Take her Students to New Places
As a business communications professional, I aim to help students use 21st century communication media. One way that helps to achieve this outcome is to provide assignments in which students interview people in their field, use social media to obtain data, report findings in a YouTube presentation, and collaborate as members of virtual teams. When my students engage with professionals in L.A. and other cities, they define their audience, shape their communication to that audience, and more attentively assess the appropriate communication medium than they frequently do for classroom exercises.
My final 2011 Spring Advanced Writing class showed the impact of this method. The class concluded with a guest presentation led by Brett Browman, a former student of mine who now lives in the Bay area. He began his discussion by recalling that I emphasized audience analysis as essential to effective communication when he was in my class years ago. Then he showed the students how he had applied that process to his web design and marketing for Square.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to execute several similar community-based partnerships every semester because Marshall provides the resources. First, the school accepts talented students like Brett who contribute while they’re on campus and again after they’ve graduated; second, it provides colleagues and mentors that encourage me to design and implement technology-based and community-based classes; third, it provides me with the technology and team that produces these courses; fourth, it provides funding for student travel to competitions and to generate communication projects. This last class’s interactive session would not have happened without the partnership of a generous alumnus, our tech team, and my increasingly busy LinkedIn former student contacts. Brett and Square’s Vice President of Marketing, who also joined this session, didn’t have to travel to L.A. When Brett contacted me through LinkedIn, I learned about his career move from banking to a tech start-up. Soon he agreed to talk to my students about the role of writing in his career. Then Marshall’s technology team arranged for the guests to join my class using Skype while it videotaped the discussion and posted the session to Blackboard for students’ review and future showings.
Gratefully, Marshall has encouraged, supported, and rewarded my use of this technology-enhanced learning. Thanks to Doug Shook, Gita Gohavi, and Jerry Whitfield’s teams’ efforts, my students have SKYPE’d with business people in London and Shanghai, presented a social media communication plan to a NFP Director in LA, and collaborated with teammates in other cities. Last Fall, about 60 MAcc/MBT students talked to Professor Ruben Davila about potential CPA exam ethics course requirements through a SKYPE session. When five accounting students were selected to propose global and technological curriculum re-designs to the Leventhal Board of Directors, one used SKYPE to contribute his section even though he was attending an in-house San Francisco firm’s interview.
The tech team videotapes and posts my blended online advanced writing class and my MAcc/MBT communication classes, thus providing a content site and a teaching assessment tool. The tech department provides me with the personal response clickers that I use to generate discussions on ethics and to measure pre-course, mid-course, and end-of-course attitudes and experience, creating a rich repository of data to measure the students’ learning and assessment of specific assignments.
The Marshall Information Systems team also makes it possible for my classes to participate in Second Life. I’ve had office hours in my Second Life office (much nicer view than my real-world office) and held classes in that classroom. Students in these sessions participate from their homes and work places. One student was able to work in New York and meet our class from his hotel room. The tech team also arranged for me to engage and share my Second Life IBM urban-planning deep dive with my students.
Similarly, another community-based learning project fosters civic engagement, provides the students with professional clients, examines L.A. as a resource, and generates several collaborative and independent writing assignments. Students in the Advanced Writing for Business classes partner with a not-for-profit agency in order to create business documents for the agency. This involvement generates some complaints about too much work during the semester, but generally results in improved writing and commitment to the class. As a result of these partnerships, a couple of students have subsequently served on an agency’s board of directors, a couple have accepted paid positions at agencies, and many report that this collaboration helps them in interviews and in jobs.
One of the most memorable partnerships led ten students and me to Mozambique. Previous class teams had collaborated with the L.A. founder of the African Millennium Foundation, and after a few years, she arranged for us to work with the NGO, Reencontro, in Maputo and with Lurio University Medical School in Nampula. Funded by matching grants from the Marshall School and USC’s Fund for Innovative Undergraduate Teaching, the writing teams produced recommendations for an orphanage to build a micro- enterprise fruit juice business, for Reencontro to create a second sewing business, tourist fashions, as an addition to the school uniform business, and for building a computer training and small business center.
Continuing this Mozambican relationship, this Fall’s Advanced Writing for Business class will have the opportunity to partnering with Keck School, the Global Health Institute, and Reencontro. Students will create documents that assist Cassa Nossa, a project that will build homes and health care facilities for Maputo AIDS orphans’ caregivers.
Seeking to increase my students’ learning, audiences, and professional development beyond the classroom has also resulted in participation in several competitions. Students have won awards at the USC Scholarly Research Symposium, USC technology competition, and USC Writing Conference competition. Some have gratefully accepted a Marshall donor’s funds which took them to competitions at the LMU Ethics competition, Association for Applied and Practical Ethics, and Eller College Business Ethics case competition. We thank Marshall’s undergraduate student funds that enabled a woman to travel to present her first prize paper at the Association of Business Communication. Sharing reports of these student successes, in turn, motivates current students to improve their communication skills, publicly voice opinions, and participate in international projects and associations.
Getting to know these students outside of the classroom has resulted in many friendships and extended resources for my current students. I’ve had the pleasure to attend a couple of weddings, participate in graduate school and career decisions, and use these students as class presentation judges and as professional resources for current students. Brett’s recent presentation, like many of my former students’ contributions, continues the cycle of active in-class and post-class community involvement.