Assignment As promised, I posted the “Right Answer” to the last 2


As promised, I posted the “Right Answer” to the last 2 week’s discussions to the first thread in this discussion board.

Part 1.

Read my initial post to this discussion board.  Now that you understand a little something about how difficult some issues can be to answer, think about a similar experience you have had professionally.  If you can’t think of anything, many current events create situations that are difficult for people to work through.  Scan through a newspaper and see if it gives you any thoughts about other such perplexing situations.  By Wednesday, just post a description about the situation and describe why it is so difficult.

Part 2.

Concerning the situation or experiences posted in Part 1.  First, post a reply to your original post and state the decision that YOU would come up with and what the likely outcome of that decision would be (i.e., who would you tick off, make really happy, etc.).  Second, respond similarly to what others in the class posted in Part 1 also.

Professor Original Post

And the “Right Answer” is… (as promised):

Well, you all did reasonably well in the Merck discussions.  Did you note that each case involved a decision that the managers dealt with, which centered on an issue that would not likely make Merck any profit?  Consider the first case, where the managers had to decide if Merck should pursue developing a drug that would save lives (a cure for River Blindness), but the customer base (patients in the jungle, so to say) could not afford the product.  The question really comes down to making a decision between doing what is best for the shareholders (creating owner profit by not pursuing the development of this drug), and doing what is best for other stakeholders (making society at large happy by developing an unprofitable product).  What’s the right answer here?  If you were the CEO, you would be forced to decide between doing what you were hired to do and make profit, which is the primary function of a for-profit organization, and doing what needs to be done as a good corporate citizen for the society in which the organization operates (even if it means losing money).

Note that I did not ask you what YOU would do, nor did I ask what the “morally” or “ethically” correct issue was.  I did not define “right” for you at all.  Therefore, “what is the right answer” is not so easy a question, is it?  It rarely is.  The right answer is… that there ISN’T a right answer.  Regardless of which answer you choose, someone would have a legitimate reason to be upset at you about it.

For the record, here is some advice from someone that has spent many years in corporate leadership.  You need to know your limits and where you draw the line between what is expected of you by others and what you expect of yourself.  Some people align their own sense of duty to be that of their superiors, but those people often find themselves unable to work without direction from others and often don’t do well in senior corporate leadership.  Others align their sense of duty with their own personal sense of morality and ethics.  These people often have the opposite problem because they tend to “do their own thing” more often than others, and have trouble meeting expectations that don’t match their own.  They also don’t often do well in corporate leadership because they lose sight of issues that they don’t think are important to their own goals, and would obviously tend to do better working alone than the previous group.

Then we have those rare individuals that have learned to balance the needs and expectations of stakeholders with their own.  These individuals typically understand their own limitations and are comfortable working in the gray areas of decision making where CEOs and other senior corporate leaders strive.  They tend to have better balance in making decisions that have differing effects on long-term and short-term phenomena, internal and external stakeholders, direct and indirect measurables, and so on.  They often see the “big picture” more quickly than others do and are more willing to take a risk for themselves and an organization where there are no right answers or clearly defined paths to success.  In short, they often make good CEOs.  Don’t be upset that this might not apply to you.  These people, those who are REALLY good at being CEOs, are a very rare breed.  Nevertheless, this is a lesson that you need to learn.

Good managers know that there are rarely any truly “right answers” for difficult decisions.  If all decisions had “right answers,” why would we need managers?  We would only need individuals (or computers) that could identify these answers, and then pass them on to the organization, which would then simply carry them out.  Instead of “right answers,” good managers know that all decisions (seriously, I speak in absolutes on purpose here – ALL decisions) do have a “best answer.”  Best answers might be determined by the “greater good,” or by the “lesser evil,” or even by mathematical logic or legislated rules.  Regardless, when it comes down to it, that’s what organizations pay managers to do.  Find and carry out the “best” answers possible, given the information available at the time, even if it is not the “right” answer.

That being said, I use the Merck case (especially the first part) to illustrate a point that is difficult to teach.  For managers, there are rarely “right answers,” only “better” or “best” ones.  No amount of studying from a textbook can prepare you for the first time you have to make a decision that will affect the lives of others negatively regardless of what you do.  Nor can we prepare you for the first time you are forced to make a hard decision that will cause you to judge the person you see in a mirror too harshly.  We can, however, put you in situations where you have to formulate a difficult decision and then justify it, even when there is no right answer.  It is clear that some of you are not as good at this as others.  All you can do is to get used to this as best as you can now and learn to think your way through problems while looking at each situation from as many different viewpoints as you can.  It doesn’t get any easier, so just get used to it.  If you don’t, you’ll fail miserably.

That being said, for the record, here is what I would do for the first case.  I would save as many lives as possible, even if it means losing huge sums of money because I know myself and I know my limits.  I have made many decisions over the years that were not easy, and I always ended up coming to the same logical end; looking at myself in the mirror wondering if I did the morally “RIGHT” thing or not.  I remember one time, when I was a manufacturing manager, that I had two forklift drivers working for me on the midnight shift.  During the night, one of them had an accident and damaged some equipment, but neither would own up to it.  The division VP called me into his office and said I needed to terminate one of them to set an example.  He wanted me to fire the guilty party if possible, but he insisted on me firing one of them, guilty or not for the accident.  At the time, it was just a few weeks before Christmas, and both drivers supported families on what was then just barely more than minimum wage.  I gave it my best shot at trying to determine who had the accident, but it was simply not possible and both denied it.  My answer?  I went back to the VP and told him that I was not prepared to fire someone for something they did not do, regardless of the fact that it was so close to a holiday.  If he wanted me to let one of them go because he wanted to cut costs, or for some other legitimate reason, I would not have any objection (though I still would not have liked it).  I just wasn’t going to fire someone under false pretenses.  Good managers don’t do that.  After about an hour of getting my tail chewed by a stomping-mad narcissistic megalomaniac, I went home with a smile on my face.  Not long after that, I was let go from the company.  That was okay because I could live with my decisions.  One of the two forklift drivers stayed with the company and the other went on to another, but I often see them in and around town.  I also see their kids growing up, which always puts a smile on my face.  I was hired by Troy University not long after that, and I still think I made the best decision possible under the circumstances.  Perfect?  No.  The “Right Answer”?  No.  Just the best I could do at the time with a clear conscience.  This is the best that a manager could hope for.  It’s not the circumstances that will keep you awake years later, but the lack of a clear conscience about your decisions.  Simple as that.

Oh, and about my justification for my decision on the Merck case?  Why would I develop the drug and distribute it, even if it cost the company billions?  Simple.  Because I would not be able to look into a mirror and justify letting that many people die because I was concerned with making profits for people that I probably didn’t even know, even if it meant I was going to be terminated.  And if that means that I get fired so that other people will live, so be it.

I hope you enjoyed thinking about and pondering these cases.

Enjoyed the discussions,


Dr. Morrison