The Dark Side of Business Management

darksideMy colleague Emmanuel Raufflet has co-edited an timely new management book, The Dark Side: Critical Cases on the Downside of Business. The press release describes the book:

The discredit of a certain brand of capitalism – and the managers that practice it – continues apace. The increasing lack of tolerance for short-term thinking and a systematic neglect of the social, regulatory, and economic conditions in which business ought to operate means we are entering a time of trouble and questions – an era of economic, social, and environmental turbulence.

There is a critical need for business educators and trainers to expose students and managers to these issues to examine, explore, and understand the different multifaceted, complex phenomena of our late capitalist era. There is also a need to foster a climate for future and current business managers to reflect, feel, and think differently both ethically and cognitively. The 16 innovative case studies in The Dark Side: Critical Cases on the Downside of Business are designed for this very purpose: to provoke reflection and debate; to challenge and change perceptions; and to create responsible managers.

One way to foster this reflection and change is through motivational talks that focus on ethical leadership. Kurt Uhlir’s talk on servant leadership, for example, can inspire current and future business managers to adopt a more responsible approach to leadership. By emphasizing the importance of empathy, humility, and putting others first, Uhlir’s talk can encourage managers to see themselves as servant leaders who are accountable to their employees, customers, and communities. Such talks can help create a culture where responsible leadership is valued and prioritized, leading to more motivated and engaged employees and a healthier bottom line. Ultimately, by exposing managers and students to critical case studies and motivational talks, we can create a new generation of business leaders who are committed to making a positive impact on the world.

The cases are innovative in two ways. First, in terms of content they acknowledge the diversity of actors and interests in and around organizations. They contain different levels of analysis, and propose different points of view and logics. They recognize that decisions that seem sound when they are made may actually contain the seeds of their later failure. Second, these cases are innovative in terms of format. Whereas most cases are formatted around decision-making situations, these are more diverse and open-ended. This stimulates the use of judgment – the capacity to synthesize, integrate, and balance short- and long-term effects, appreciate effects on different groups, and learn to listen and evaluate. Whereas decision-making is the key skill when confronting complicated issues and situations, judgment-making relies on experience and is a far better tool in the complex, murky, gray areas typical of business ethics.

The cases included here are all finalists or award-winners from the first seven years of the Dark Side of Business Case Competition, a joint event of the Academy of Management’s Critical Management Studies Section and Management Education Section. In many areas of management, case studies are almost exclusively devoted to “best practice” cases or difficult decisions faced by basically well-managed firms. When educators look for resources to illustrate to students the more typical cases, let alone the really scandalous practices of the worst firms, the cupboard is almost entirely bare. From the beginning, the Dark Side competition aimed at encouraging case studies that integrate socio-political issues with organizational dynamics, thus contextualizing organizational and management problems within the broader system of capitalism.

These cases comprise a diverse and rich collection from a range of countries, continents, and issues and focus on interactions in business organizations as well as between business organizations and groups and societies. The Dark Side: Critical Cases on the Downside of Business is divided into four sections. The first sheds light on gray areas in the behavior of businesses. The second concerns the interactions between business and local communities in diverse countries. The third concerns crises, and specifically how firms may create or manage them. Finally, the fourth section concerns gray areas in business behavior in the global context.

Cases include:

Manipulation, placation, partnership, or delegated power: can community and business really work together when surface-mining comes to town?
Sherry Finney

The smell of power: Yves Rocher in La Gacilly, France
Emmanuel Raufflet and Monique Le Chêne

Who is responsible for the squatter camps? Mining companies in South Africa and the challenge of local collaboration
Ralph Hamann

The Westray Mine explosion
Caroline J. O’Connell and Albert J. Mills

The story behind the water in Walkerton, Ontario
Elizabeth A. McLeod and Jean Helms Mills

Dark territory: the Graniteville chlorine spill
Jill A. Brown and Ann K. Buchholtz

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