A Systems Approach to Identifying the Sources of Decision Influences and their Importance to Individuals Facing Ethical Dilemmas

Date of Submission


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Science in Management Systems (Sc.D.)




Omid Nodoushani

Committee Member

William Pan

Committee Member

David Morris

Committee Member

Arjun Chaudhuri

LC Subject Headings

Business ethics, Decision making--Moral and ethical aspects

Call No. at the Univ. of New Haven Library

AS 36 .N290 Mgmt. Syst. 2000 no. 3


Understanding the variability in the behaviors of individuals facing ethical dilemmas in the workplace is very difficult. This research seeks an explanation for this variability in an individual’s ethical behavior by using systems thinking. When an individual is described as a system, the complexity of any decision becomes apparent. Since there are many factors that enter the decision process and many possible interactions of those factors, variable outcomes are expected.

This research takes an interdisciplinary approach to the problem. Using systems thinking, several streams of literature are examined to create a theoretical model of an individual’s ethical system. Writings in systems theory, philosophy, and business are examined.

A systems model of the ethical environment of the individual as a containing system comprised of many subsystems is presented as a possible way of describing the influences affecting an individual decision-maker. The model includes seven subsystems that exert influence on an individual: the workplace, family, religion, law, community profession and self. Taken together, these subsystems make up the individual’s ethical system. If, in fact, there are influences from multiple subsystems, then insights as to which ethical subsystems are important to decision-makers in different settings, and for dilemmas of different complexity will increase our understanding of the decision process. When using a systems perspective the research problem revolves around identifying the ethical subsystems that exert the most influence on the decision-maker facing an ethical dilemma.

The model is tested empirically and found to have explanatory power. Some of the findings show that individuals rate the influences of the variables (e.g. the law, religion, or community) at different levels of importance as the seriousness of the breach changes. That is, specific influences become more or less important. The importance ranking of the variables also changes with case seriousness. The influence that is most important when a dilemma is seen as a minor infraction is different than the one that is ranked first when the infraction is major. In addition, there are gender, age, and management differences observed.