Managers sometimes face enormous time pressures to keep operations moving. When an ethical dilemma comes up, the time pressures do not help matters. Here is an interesting story that occurred recently at United Airlines which I found to be a terrific discussion starter with students. It is a great illustration of the complexity of some business dilemmas that managers face.
A group of 13 flight attendants employed by United Airlines walked off the 747 jumbo jet just before takeoff from San Francisco (scheduled to fly to Hong Kong) 14 July 2014 because an employee saw a message written in oil residue on the fuselage tail cone that said, “Bye Bye” along with two images of smiley faces. The tail cone contains an auxiliary engine. The message had apparently been written on the plane by a ground crew member when it was in Korea. The First Officer, one of four pilots on the aircraft, had taken a photo of the message and shared what he called the “disturbing image” with the other pilots and then told one of the flight attendants. The First Officer requested a visual inspection of the compartment under the tail section. This was done but nothing suspicious was found. When flight attendants saw the message they interpreted it as threatening. They were afraid to fly. One of the face images is a smile. The other the attendants interpreted as a “devilish” expression. Earlier that same week a bomb warning had been issued to airlines by the Transportation Security Administration. This was just months after the disappearance of Malaysian Airline flight 370. The United Airlines attendants asked that the passengers and crew be put off the aircraft and everyone including the airplane searched again before takeoff. When this request was refused and the crew ordered to work by a UA supervisor, the flight attendants walked off the plane refusing to fly. Flight 869 was cancelled. In October, 2014 the crew members were fired for insubordination. The employees filed a complaint against United Airlines with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor asking that they be reinstated in their jobs with back pay and compensatory damages. Was it right that these employees got fired?
For active learning, engage students in a conversation about this interesting story!
- From an operational point of view, what are the issues at stake in this situation?
- Was it right that these employees got fired?
- Ask students to identify two or more good things that United Airlines managers want to accomplish in this situation. To what degree are these “goods” in conflict?
- Ask students to identify two or more bad things that managers want to avoid in this situation. Which is the lesser of two or more “evils?”
- It is the presence of two or more legitimate right things, or duties to perform, and the presence of two or more “evils” to avoid that makes an ethical issue a complicated dilemma. How is the Christian to be faithful in this type of situation?
- What biblical principle(s) is/are at stake in this situation?
- Which biblical principle is the most important one to guide the Christian manager while the customers are still on the airplane (before the flight was cancelled)?
- Which biblical principle is most important for guiding the Christian manager after customers are taken off the plane and the flight is cancelled?
Most introductory management courses help students understand both the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness but also the relationship between them. Here is a way to connect these management concepts to deeper biblical principles.
We covered these two concepts a couple of weeks ago in the principles of management course that I teach. We will address these issues later in the semester from a different perspective when we get to Chapter 14 and the topic of managerial control.
When covering the topic of efficiency, like me, you might put emphasis on these points:
- Measures how well resources are used in fulfilling the organization’s purpose.
- Performance driven
- The means to achieve purpose
- Doing things right
- Improving operational performance
- Minimizing waste
- Optimally allocating resources
- Optimal system throughput
What the top-selling secular management textbooks do not address is the deeper spiritual issues at stake for a manager who focuses heavily on efficiency. The common view on efficiency is the more the better, let nothing get in the way of increased efficiency. Microeconomics of many industries fuels this perspective. I, myself, spend a good chunk of my career promoting performance improvement, leading performance improvement teams, conducting just-in-time training for other performance improvement teams. I understand from experience how important this is in competitive markets and for quality improvement.
This is all fine and good, but what the contemporary secular business perspective leaves out is the Scriptural principles of contentment and constraint.
For the Christian who wishes to have the Scripture the foundation for business, the moral dimension of efficiency should be faced. “As important as efficiency is, moral issues can arise if the drive for efficiency is unconstrained. By itself, efficiency says very little about how a manager should act. Stripped of moral boundaries, almost anything might be allowed as long as the behaviour does not violate the law or the managers don’t get caught.” (Cafferky, 2012, p. 17)
Counteracting this secular perspective we find the deep scriptural principle of Sabbath. Sabbath is sacred time for worship – one day in sevan; however, it is more than that, too. It brings sacredness to all that we do the rest of the week. Sabbath represents the constraint of covenant principles on our acquisitive desires. Sabbath is a constraint on greed. While the Sabbath principle in Scripture honors diligent work, it also is designed to foster contentment. Sabbath is a micro-representation of all the principles of a flourishing life contained in the Ten Commandments.
- How might the idea that Sabbath is sacred time become the idea that Sabbath is also sacred for operations?
- Given the deep principles embedded in the Sabbath, what is the faithful Christian manager’s major spiritual challenge?
- What other scriptural principles are at the foundation of performance improvement efforts in organizations?
- How does a Christian manager know when constraints should be applied on efforts to improve efficiency?
- In what way might Sabbath be related to the drive to find better technology to use in accomplishing work?
- Does more efficient technology (machines) relieve the faithful Christian from bringing Sabbath principles to work?
Last May I read the course evaluations from my students and, based on the results, I determined to improve the scores during Fall semester. In particular, I wanted to close the gap between how I understand the course content and how students understand it. Also, I wanted to improve the students’ perception of the relevance of the material that we cover in class. At the same time I wanted to crank up student participation in class another notch. I also wanted to encourage student conversations about faith and business. Waiting until the end of the semester is too long to wait for the type of feedback I wanted. So, I decided to get a little feedback every class period.
The solution: Technology! I created a “Mind the Gap Feedback” form which I simply print as a half-sheet of paper and hand out at the beginning of every class period (exam periods excluded). Here is what the form has on it:
What specific part(s) of the material covered today need further clarification or explanation?
Please rate the relevance of the material we covered today:
___ Not at all relevant
___ Low relevance
___ Moderately relevant
___ Very relevant
___ Extremely relevant
Such a form could be used as part of on-line learning, but I was worried that if students didn’t give immediate feedback, they might forget to do so. Yes, you might be able to use some form of electronic feedback system using social media or “clickers.” I don’t tweet with my students and I don’t have an app for something like this. Furthermore, I wanted something visible and tangible to physically handle and use during the following class period. So here’s how it works.
Every class period I remind the students how important feedback is to me. At the beginning of every class period I address the questions that came in. For class periods that come just before an exam, I send students answers to the questions through our on-line learning news forum function.
Near the end of the semester I bring to class the stack of feedback forms. It is quite large by then. By itself the stack makes a statement of how I value their feedback. I present to them statistics regarding how many of their questions were answered, and the class average on relevance of the material across all the class periods. I’m careful not to generalize since use of the form is voluntary and some students may not agree with the degree of relevance that respondents perceive.
- Anonymous questions give timid students a chance to have their concerns heard by the whole class and a response from the instructor.
- Student questions give the instructor time (minimum of 24 hours) to craft answers that address complicated issues.
- Highlighting the questions every class period gives the whole class the chance to celebrate student work at crafting deeply penetrating questions that get to the heart of important issues.
- The system keeps top of our minds the importance of providing examples and illustrations that show the relevance of theory.
- My course evaluation scores went way up compared with all previous semesters. The overall score for that course was the highest we had ever achieved.
- Students seem to be interested in the questions that other students ask.
- Students with concerns about integrating faith and their work in business raise issues of faith in a safe environment.
- Students ask more questions during the class periods.
- I come into the classroom every day smiling, excited and enthusiastic about the questions that were asked. This raises my energy level and, for me, is a great way to start the class period.
- Participation is voluntary. We addressed 80 different questions and achieved 78% (based on attendance) participation. 74% of respondents said that the material covered in class was very relevant or higher.
- This simple, low-tech system has transformed our classroom experiences.
I am using the system in three courses. You may use something similar, but if not, give it a try and see what happens to the classroom dynamics!
After taking a much-needed hiatus from blogging to complete a textbook project it’s time to get back to this blog. The topic of this posting is the choice instructors face regarding the major commitments toward integrating faith and learning.
How do you approach the integration of faith and learning with the content of your management courses: a) Making references to the Bible and biblical thinking as an “add-on” to course content or; b) making biblical thinking the foundation for course content? There is a difference between these two strategies. Each represents a different set of commitments that you and the students make for learning. Each set of commitments comes with tradeoffs that need to be managed.
Biblical Add-on Strategy:
- Prayerfully attempt to live biblical principles in your own life and in your interactions with students.
- The Bible does not comment on every contemporary business practice. Our job is to find the passages of Scripture that relate directly to contemporary practice and make sure the students are aware of these.
- Read a Bible verse and comment on it at the beginning of class period. The Bible verse may have nothing directly related to the content of the course.
- Make passing reference to a Bible verse when encountering a management topic before moving on to focus on contemporary theory and research. Here are four examples:
- Organizing: “No man can serve two masters…” (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13)
- Efficiency: “If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength…” (Eccles 10:10)
- Quality improvement: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Pro 27:17)
- Selection of new workers: “Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.” (Prov 26:10)
Biblical Foundation Strategy:
- Prayerfully attempt to live biblical principles in your own life and in your interactions with students.
- The Bible does not comment on every contemporary business practice. Our job is to find the biblical thinking that applies and help students grasp this as they encounter information about management from contemporary theory, research and practice.
- Read a Bible verse and comment on it at the beginning of a class period. The verse presents a fundamental principle that is important for the Christian manager in terms of the content of the course.
- When considering contemporary theory and research on a management topic, biblical thinking is not left behind. Instead, it is discussed at the same time as contemporary thinking is discussed.
- Introducing a management topic by exploring the deeper biblical thinking at stake that is relevant to the major issues that the students will encounter in practice.
- Discuss these two options with your students and fellow faculty members. Which strategy do they think is more appropriate?
- Are biblical add-ons insufficient for being effective as an instructor?
- Is the biblical foundation strategy, as described here, going to far?
- What tradeoffs will be encountered when choosing the biblical add-on strategy?
- What tradeoffs will be encountered when choosing the biblical foundation strategy?
- What does it mean to be an effective instructor of management in a Christian college and university?
- Are these two categories of faith and learning strategy too simplistic? What additional types of strategic commitment are relevant?