What would you do if you were Brian? An ethical dilemma

What would you do if you were Brian? An ethical dilemma

15 January 2018

Brian is an expatriate manager working in Shanghai and is in the process of approving the contract for a new recruit. On reviewing the paperwork he notes that the recommended candidate is not the most qualified. He calls the local assistant manager who is a Chinese national to ask for further information. The assistant manager uncharacteristically provides vague and unsatisfying answers to Brian’s questions. Frustrated, Brian says that he is unwilling to sign the contract and asks the recommendation be changed to another candidate.

The assistant manager is clearly agitated and suggests that it is likely to have negative consequences for the company. He explains that the recommended candidate is the son of an important business partner of the company, and that by not selecting this candidate it would likely be difficult to do business, not only with the candidate’s father’s company but with a number of other companies. Brian, and therefore his company, would be seen to be disrespectful of the locals and their business culture.

What action should Brian take?

(Global Business Ethics, 2016: 120)

28 thoughts on “What would you do if you were Brian? An ethical dilemma”

  1. These are the costs of doing business. The capitalist society that we live in almost guarantees such problems to occur. It would be in the company’s best interest to hire this unqualified person, therefore that is what should be done. It is likely he will be incapable of doing to job, someone else will have to be hired to actually do his work, and the employee will just end up on the payroll to satisfy all ends. It’s often an ethical dilemma that one is faced with when it comes to business, but if the company’s health is the priority, all acts that will promote this should be undertaken unless directly illegal. Hiring this person will allow business activities to continue or even expand further, although its likely the slack will have to be picked up somewhere else down the line, the burning of bridges if never helpful if one will at some point need to walk over them again.

  2. This dilemma consists of a moral problem faced by Brian. He should not hire the person based on moral grounds, but the negative consequences of not hiring the candidate seem to be outweighing the benefits if he makes that decision. His company can gain a negative image and reputation and that would be much more costly than hiring somebody who is underqualified, as this person can be improved through training and experience. Furthermore, the business partners and the locals will remain satisfied, and this is a significant aspect of running a business in today’s world.

  3. Brian is faced with a dilemma of accepting a candidate who is not suitable for the position he is applying for. In my personal opinion which falls under the utilitaristic perspective, Brian should hire the candidate since it will benefit the company. (What benefits the majority) However deontological ethics (obligation or duty) would argue that Brian should do what he, in his professional position is obligated to do, or what he feel is right. Which in this case is to not employ the candidate since it is unprofessional.

    1. Hanna,
      Your basic rationale seems correct – for both types of reasoning. However, you should take it one (or more) steps further, to consider (a) all the possible consequences for everyone involved, under the utilitarian perspective, and (b) all possible principles that might apply, under principle-based ethics (not only duty or obligation), in the order of relevance and priority.
      Never dismiss a line of argumentation too quickly!

  4. I think that Brian should hire the candidate. The business would suffer more by not hiring him because of the potential loss of multiple business partners. There is a good chance that the candidate would be able to adapt to the work environment and eventually better understand the job. There is too much of a risk to the company if Brian chooses not to hire the candidate.

    1. What about honesty and professionalism — as values that seem to be really important to Brian? And what if they are also key organisational values for the company? Should him hiring the candidate for the wrong reasons not compromise both his own and his company’s integrity?

  5. Brian is faced with the dilemma of accepting nepotism over principle in order to advance his company and show his respect to the local status quo of business. Whilst this sole decision may seem finite, its repercussions in opening the floodgates to future requests of nepotism are dangerous and may lead to the corruption of his business practices. Therefore I argue that Brian shall not hire the individual in question, in order to set clear that he is an authority figure who refuses nepotism and corruption. Instead, Brian should hire a more qualified individual, but one who is also of Chinese origin, as to show that his decision was not based on the pretence of ethnicity but rather on principle.

    1. This is an interesting line of arguments. On the one hand, you look at Brian’s values and principles, on the other — you consider the potential consequences of his decision (to hire the candidate or not). You might want to try and build a separate line of argumentation on each of these routes, or types of reasoning.

  6. Brian is faced with the dilemma of hiring an under qualified employee- but it does not strictly say what the position is, or higher the employee to maintain strong business relations with the father’s company. I think Brian should hire the man with the interest of keeping the business relationship with the numerous companies. Although the man is under qualified, it does not mean that he cannot be coached and mentored. Perhaps the man will become an important asset to the company. On the other hand, if the man is surely not performing, then additional steps can be taken to let go of the man. I think it is important for the company to give the man a chance mainly because of the connection with the father’s company.

    1. Mitch,
      what about the principle of integrity and professionalism, which says that a candidate should be hired for the right reasons (i.e. being the best fit for the job)? Would hiring this candidate not infringe better candidates’ rights?
      And what about the potential damage this would do to Brian’s reputation, as well as his company’s, if word got out about improper recruitment practices?

  7. Considering the diplomatic and business relations of the company, Brian should hire the employee and put more importance on the overall performance of the company than the performance of a single employee. In order to satisfy everyone, his main objective should be the comprehensive introduction of the recruit, in order to make him succeed, despite being unqualified for the job.

    1. Florian,
      this line of argument is against all principles of both personal and professional integrity. What if we applied the same rationale in education — giving undeserved marks to students we happen to be friends with? How can we justify ‘making people succeed’ who have not earned that opportunity?

  8. Brian seems to be experiencing an ethical culture clash. While his understanding and experience of the workforce leads him to believe he should hire the most qualified candidate for the company, he is failing to see that this difference in culture could lead to his company’s demise. If he had grown up in China, he may understand more about why it is important to hire the unqualified man whose father is an important business partner of the company. Because Chinese work culture differs from many Western work cultures, Brian should acknowledge their values and hire the recommended candidate, therefore keeping the company’s best interests in mind and keeping positive relationships with their other partners.

    1. Ally,
      what about the company’s own values — such as, perhaps, honesty, transparency and professionalism? You might want to discuss what to do, if there is a clash between these and the local culture.

  9. Sometimes there is a big difference between what is good for the soul, and what should be done in order to survive in the harsh conditions of real life.
    Even though it would probably be better for Brian’s conscience, to hire someone else, it is important to understand that he – as a hired worker and a foreigner isn’t granted with the gift of freedom of choice under such circumstances. The idea of this liberty, the possibility of doing the right thing, is a privilege and is rather rare, and in this particular situation, Brian should do what is right for the company.

    1. Mayya,
      this is an interesting line of argumentation. So Brian should follow his conscience and exercise his freedom of choice — presumably, to appoint the best candidate?
      Unless you mean hiring the not-so-good-candidate, because it might seem to be ‘right for the company’?
      Please clarify.

  10. In my opinion, I believe that Brian should hire the candidate even though he may not be qualified. Because it will be beneficial for him as a businessman abroad to follow the rule of the country that he’s currently doing business in. More than that, by taking this action it will also create a good impact on his company because it will avoid any unessary conflicts between business partners. As for the unqualified candidate, he could be trained to gain better skills and reach the required qualification.

    1. Nora,

      as in my reply to Florian above, don’t you think this rationale defies all principles of personal and professional integrity? How could we justify giving an opportunity to a candidate, who doesn’t deserve it, thereby denying it to other, better candidates? Why should a company invest in training an undeserving candidate? Principles of honesty and fairness would be compromised if we did.
      And what about — to take a different line of reasoning — the potential consequences of hiring such a candidate, for the wrong reasons? Would this not risk damaging both Brian’s reputation and the company’s?

  11. I think that Brian should approve the contract for the new recommended recruit even if he knows he isn’t the most qualified. This doesn’t mean the employee can’t improve and become better in his work. In addition, Brian is not from Shanghai and he doesn’t know well the Chinese culture. As the assistant says the company would have a negative impact if Brian doesn’t hire the recruit. Personally, I think this is the best action for him to take. The company is much more important than an employee.

    1. Rebecca, it seems to me you’re taking a utilitarian approach in judging this situation; if so, you could expand it — look into other possible consequences, for other people as well.
      And then, try to think of an alternative line of reasoning, one that would be guided by values – or principles.
      We’ll have this conversation in class, in a few weeks’ time.

  12. Even though Brian knows that the recruit isn’t the best candidate for the job, he should hire the recruit so the company won’t be negatively impacted. The recruit may not be the most qualified, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve while in the company with good guidance. Since Brian is not originally from Shanghai, he should listen to his assistant manager when he says that it will be disrespectful to the way the businesses are usually run. Hiring the not as qualified candidate would be the better decision for Brian.

    1. Brooke, as in my replies to Nora, Rebecca and Florian above, it may be worth considering (a) if Brian’s hiring the wrong candidate might have other potential consequences, for either Brian himself, the company, or other (better) candidates, before reaching a conclusion. And (b) if there is any other line of reasoning that we could take, to judge this dilemma — such as, one that involves considering the act itself (an improper hiring practice) and the values or principles that it might compromise.

  13. I think that Brian should hire the candidate. The reputation of the company is more important to its success then one employee is. The company can carry on doing well if it has its business partners are still involved. Although this is irritating for Brian and he himself might have to end up doing more work to compensate, the bigger picture for the company is more important in my personal opinion.

    1. Kitty,
      you seem to adopt a utilitarian perspective and judge the situation based on consequences. But I’m not sure you have considered all the possible effects. What if the company’s reputation is actually going to be damaged by Brian’s hiring the wrong candidate (for the wrong reasons)? What about consequences for other potential candidates (who might deserve the job more)? Etc…

  14. Brian should hire the unqualified candidate for the main reason of gaining partnership with a business partner and bettering the company. As the assistant manager points out, not hiring the unqualified candidate would lead to negative situations in the future. Lastly, the candidate is not fully qualified, but he/ she can be trained to gain needed skills.

    1. Laura,
      same comment as for Kitty before. What if this course of action ends up backfiring, and the company’s reputation suffers? What about other potential candidates? Or Brian’s own reputation? And would the cost of training an undeserving candidate be justified — would it not be a liability?
      Make sure to consider all the potential consequences, before recommending a particular course of action.

  15. I see the dilemma as Brian is aware that by giving the under qualified applicant the position he is taking this opportunity away from a person who is qualified. By hiring the recommended candidate, the work he will do might be unsatisfactory. Moreover knowing his farther is an important man might negatively impact his work ethic effecting parts of the companies moral on a whole.
    I believe Brian must make a choice between the individual and the company. If he wants to be fair to the individual he should not hire him as knowing he only got in cause of his connections will lead to him to not enjoying his time at the company. His coworkers will treat him differently and being unproductive will also negatively impact his happiness in life.
    However the company is at stake and it is made up of multiple individuals. I believe the needs of the many surpass the needs of the few. By hiring the recommended candidate, the company maintains many business relationships that it needs to survive and prosper. Hereby they ensure that no one loses their jobs due to downsizing. Also Brian is in a different culture and a local who also works for the company did explain it is the respectful thing to do. Therefore I believe he should hire the individual and make sure he is fully integrated and motivated to do his work. This will cause the least amount of damage to the company which as a manager is one of Brian’s priorities.

    1. Daniel,
      yours is a complex line of argumentation. You consider both values (or principles) and the potential consequences of choosing one course of action over another.
      I would suggest you might want to distinguish between these two types of reasoning, rather than try to combine them in a single judgement.
      I’m very curious to see you tackle this dilemma again, in a few weeks’ time.

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