Will Management Oath Project Be Taken Seriously?

Last Updated Feb 20, 2010 10:48 PM EST

For those who believe that management needs its own version of the Hippocratic Oath to hold managers ethically accountable, I present to you the Oath Project.

The Oath Project, whose leaders include Thunderbird School of Global Management president Angel Cabrera and several members of MBA Oath, has an impressively lofty vision, as expressed in its mission statement:

"One day, all business leaders will hold themselves to the higher standard of integrity and service to society that is the hallmark of a true professional. The Oath Project supports and enhances the efforts of the individuals and organizations who are pursuing this mission."
On its website, the group is seeking feedback before issuing the final draft of its oath. The Oath Project would be wise to listen to Harvard Business blogger Justin Fox, who recently discussed whether or not management oaths could be made "less mockable."

Fox pointed out two key reasons that business oaths risk being mocked:

  • 1. They often stray from the main goal: The point of business oaths is to set ethical behavioral standards. But Fox says that management oaths often get into the murky territory of making the world a better place, which risks diluting their main point. He writes, "Hippocrates certainly didn't say anything about trying to create sustainable economic, social and environmental prosperity worldwide."
  • 2. They contain no consequences for bad behavior: Unlike doctors and lawyers, whose ability to practice can be revoked on account of harmful behavior, unethical managers face no uniform set of consequences. Fox suggests that the whole management profession could potentially benefit from a certification like the financial analyst designation: "You don't need it to be a Wall Street analyst to manage money, but it's a nice thing to have and something of an embarrassment to lose." If such a certification existed, then managers may in turn think more seriously about the contents of these oaths.
What do you think - are management oaths necessary, mockable or something in between? And would you sign one?

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  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.