The Stages of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development That Best Help Managers to Operate Ethically

Nancy B. Alston

The three stages of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development that would be the most beneficial for managers to operate ethically are Stage 3, 4, and 5. Stage 3 involves people behaving morally based on their friendships or long-term relationships; Stage 4 involves people behaving morally because they are following the law which requires them to behave a certain way; and Stage 5 involves people behaving morally because the laws have been created through some kind of democratic due process, either by representatives of those required to follow the law or by those following the law themselves.

Stage 3 moral reasoning is one good approach for managers to use through promoting a feeling of family or camaraderie within the organization, whereby everyone wants to follow the rules, because they are part of a community that does things a certain way. Such an approach can help to build strong bonds within the organization, so that everyone will want to go along and behave morally because they want to support one another. To this end, a manager might organize activities to encourage strong bonding among everyone in the organization or a department within it, such as by having staff meetings to share concerns and organizing special events for the whole group, such as luncheons and office parties to promote long-lasting friendships. Such bonding efforts will contribute to people wanting to follow the rules because others do.

Stage 4 moral reasoning is another good approach for managers to use to show why certain policies and rules have been established for the good of the organization, and that is why employees should follow them. To this end, a manager might provide a list of rules for new employees, which include an explanation of why these policies have been adopted, such as rules about employees not using equipment for their own use and the use of monitoring by management to see that these rules are enforced. For instance, this monitoring might be used to make sure that employees don’t use cell phones or e-mails for personal business while on the job, since doing so undermines productivity.

Stage 5 moral reasoning is still another good approach to use, because it involves creating rules and policies through a due process, such as by having a meeting of staff members to decide on certain rules and policies. While this collaborative due process approach might take an overly long time for dealing with many everyday rules and policies, it would be a good approach to use if an HRT manager finds that many employees are breaching certain rules or when management wants to make some rule changes. A staff discussion might uncover the reasons employees are ignoring certain rules, such as if mothers are using their cell phones or e-mails which aren’t allowed to check on the well-being of their family members. Then, this understanding might lead to a discussion of how the rules might be changed so that employees can agree to them, such as by having certain times each day when employees can use their cell phones or send e-mails, or providing for an exception in the case of an emergency. Likewise, a discussion might be helpful when a new technology results in changes in operations requiring new procedures. Also, a discussion about these rules might help to create a general consensus among employees about what would be fair to do, leading them to follow the rules which they had a hand in creating and thus agreeing to themselves.

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