In view of the cases of celebrity tax avoidance and manipulated reader surveys, there is currently hefty discussion about morality in business, politics, and society in Germany.
Prof. Wieland, how would you assess the “state of the nation” in terms of its ethics and morality?
Wieland: The ethical justification for imposing taxes is that every member of society contributes to the cost of society’s needs according to their means. There is also the shared belief that rules — that is to say, laws, justice, and good manners — must be observed. The incidents and scandals you mentioned are a few examples among many in the past few months and years that would seem to point to a decline in this moral consensus. The fact that it is often celebrities who are caught out probably indicates that we have a problem in Germany with members of the elite who no longer live up to their positions as role models. This seems to me to be the actual, worrying problem behind the many individual incidents.
In his work “On What Matters”, Derek Parfit puts it in a nutshell: As beings capable of reason, we should care about the well-being of others. Leadership Management International puts the principle that everyone is responsible for their own actions and development first — and that being honest with each other is the basis for modern society. Do we lack honesty or responsibility?
Wieland: I don’t think it is a matter of either/or — the two things go hand in hand. Only when we have a true interest in each other can we also be in a position to take on responsibility for ourselves and others. This is also the only way to determine the limits of responsibility — i.e. where the boundaries lie between responsibility for ourselves and for others. When there are no boundaries, there can be no perception of responsibility.
You have spent many years working intensively on corporate value systems and their implementation. What values do these involve, exactly? And what are the key conditions for ensuring that guiding principles become reality?
Wieland: It’s all about the performance, communication, cooperation, and moral values of companies and other organizations. These might include the relationship between customer orientation, openness, respect, and honesty. These will only guide everyday practice when they are implemented and made routine using guidelines, procedures, incentive systems, and organizational measures.
But this is only the first step. Leadership behavior, the example set by top management, and clear communication of the values culture are all crucial.
Could the values consensus you just described also be transferred to American or Chinese companies, for example?
Wieland: To a certain extent, yes — that is part of the character of economic globalization. But the meaning of the individual values might be different. In other words, what do the values actually mean in practice, and what actions are therefore appropriate to achieve them? This can and will often vary. Organizing this mutual learning process is the art of diversity management.
In “Shared Value durch Stakeholder Governance”, which you published in 2013, you address the issue of the extent to which CSR activities have measurable effects on the competitiveness of a company. What is your answer?
Wieland: Scientific studies have shown that there is a proven, slight connection between financial performance and social involvement. What is unclear, however, is the direction of flow. Do people get involved in CSR because they are financially successful, or are they successful because they are involved? We are currently developing a reliable calculator and controlling instrument to clarify these questions more precisely.
The public is much more conscious of what companies do and don’t do these days. Nonetheless, it is hard to find role models. Why is that? And how can the media help in this regard?
Wieland: Executives and managers today still hardly have any training in how to deal with the demands of modern corporate leadership. If the “business of business is business”, then that only leaves a limited leadership range. We need intersectoral leadership qualities. It would be helpful if the media would sometimes report on things other than just scandals.
On your website, it says “Fundamental values are the business card of a company, and set benchmarks for the actions of management and associates.” Against this backdrop, how do you see the future of interaction in the market, and also of cooperation within a company?
Wieland: We are currently in the middle of a renaissance of values orientation. What’s more, this is not directed against the market and economic logic, but is a matter of reciprocity. Moral values orientation and economic value added are two sides of the same coin.
(Interview with Prof. Dr. Josef Wieland in March 2014)