Under the pressures of authority, integrity, and our values, how does an individual determine what is the ethically right thing to do? In my previous role, as a packaging engineer, for Honda Manufacturing, I was tasked with designing and developing packaging solutions for various car components. These car components were produced and assembled at a supplier and shipped to the factory, for final assembly. The packaging design must sufficiently support parts during transit, so appearance and functional damage do not occur. To put my role into perspective, I was responsible for car components such as the seats, sunroof, instrument panel, and center console. My assigned parts shipped domestically and internationally. The success of my design relied heavily on the Honda quality representative, Honda line associates, the fabricator, and the supplier. Each of these parties had a stake in the packaging design. An ethical dilemma I experienced in my role, was whether to utilize an existing rack design for the newly re-designed part. Based on the slightly steeper curvature, additional insulation foam, and past problem history on the rack, I did not believe the existing rack would last another 5 years through the transit system. Nor did I believe it would provide protection. After getting the new rack design approved, through all channels, the fabricator begun to produce a functional prototype. Even though the prototype design and cost were approved by the team, my project manager suddenly had a concern regarding cost. As a result, my project leader directed me to push the existing rack designed for approval. This command had enormous destructive implications to multiple parties along the internal and external value chain. The values in conflict were authority, competence, customer satisfaction, integrity, and innovation. The conflict between these values can be label as project manager versus employee’s deliverables. The value of authority directly aligns with the project manager’s power, while the remaining values align with the responsibilities of my role. The values that align directly with my personal morals are competence and integrity.
Prescriptive Approach: Consequentialist
When utilizing the Consequentialist approach, the identified stakeholders are the: final consumers, quality representative, line associates, fabricator, supplier, project manager, packaging department, and manufacturing plant. If I utilize the new design, the only stakeholder that may experience negative criticism is my project leader. The criticism would involve a discussion, with the unit manager, regarding excessing forecasted project cost. Even though my project was not the only contributing factor to being over budget, it was a small portion. On the other hand, if I utilized the existing design, appearance and functional damage will occur. As a result, the remaining stakeholders would experience dissatisfaction. Once the part is shipped to the production line, part imperfection would be found, and the line would shut down. In a manufacturing facility, time equals money. When the production line shuts down, an investigation team gets involved and decides what is the best immediate course of action. An emergency meeting is fashioned to understand what happened, which department is at fault and determine next steps for a permeate solution. The fabricator may be tasked to quickly modify racks not currently in their production schedule. Unfortunately, the supplier will be responsible for replacing the damaged parts. Finally, the packaging department will receive criticism from other departments, due to the loss in production time.
Prescriptive Approach: Deontological
Under the Deontological approach, I am obligated to produce best-priced packaging solutions under the “JIT” model. When considering the golden rule, an appropriate response would be to push for a new design solution and negotiate the best cost per rack. Under a veil of ignorance, I would not have followed my project leader’s direction. This decision would have been based on Kant’s categorical imperative and not my project leader’s authority over me. Under Kant’s categorical imperative, the textbook stated, you should treat others how you believe they should treat everyone else. In my ethical dilemma, I believe internal and external customers should be should be treated with respect.
Prescriptive Approach: Virtue Ethics
Considering the Virtue Ethics approach, my intention was to create a rack design to reduce the logistic bottlenecks. Because the rack design received prior approval from the team, I believed the cost prerequisite was met. To gain perspective on whether my action echoes a person of integrity, I consult with my company mentors, supervisors, and individuals who I professional respect. My ethical role model and mentor, within the company, is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion. Keeping in mind the goal to have a successful professional career, both her and I are my harshest moral critic. I believe my mentor would think the best course of action was to fight for my design and figure out alternative materials or specifications to reduce cost. She always encourages me to fight for what I believe is right.
My ethical decision, to follow my projects leader’s direction, was influenced by several different factors, which affected what I believed was the best option. My moral cognitive development fell within Conventional (level II) and Postconventional (level III). Level II stage 4 states an individual has the desire to follow the rules and laws. In my ethical dilemma, I had a strong desire to follow the proper instructions to develop a rack that would adequately support the part. I also identified with level III stage 6’s theory to follow universal ethical principles. This universal ethical principle was the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Along with the golden rule, I also use the role of emotion to help me decided the right course of action. I placed myself in the other stakeholders’ shoes and thought, how would I react, as a supplier, if I was given a faulty rack to support parts through transit? I was fully aware that my actions directly affected the outcome many would face. This awareness can be noted as an internal locus of control. Our text explains that an individual with an internal locus of control is more likely to do what they think is right and less likely to be pressured by others. But why when I possess these moral cognitive developments, did I still decide to follow my project leader’s direction? Moral disengagement mechanisms provided the best answers. Even though I felt pressure to do as I was told, I also knew that I could deflect the blame on the project leader. This attribution of blame helped to ease the fact that I knew I was acting unethically. Originally, I was trying to reduce the consequence for a larger number of people. But due to the attribution of blame, I settled for reducing the number of consequences for myself. Utilized the number of consequences to derive at the best decision is also known as a cognitive barrier to good ethical judgment. Less applicable influences that do not align with my situation or personal characters are Machiavellianism and high levels of propensity. I cannot think of a situation where committing evil is okay if it is a must. Nor do actively deactivate my self-control system to justify an unethical decision.
In conclusion, my ethical analysis revealed that certain aspects of ethical decision making are not equal in terms of weight. Even though I believe I have an ethical approach professionally and personally, I still decided to follow the direction of my supervisor. Ultimately, the weight of ownership or blame was more than other ethical factors. I knew, when the design was unsuccessful, the project leader would be held accountable and required to explain his decision to reverse the original approval. In hindsight, I would have defended my project design more. As a level 1 engineer, I felt as though I had no choice on whether I followed my supervisor direction, but I could have provided him with compelling evidence, as to why my design would be more beneficial to the company.