Corporate codes of ethics, which have spread in the last decades, have shown a limited ability to foster ethical behaviors. For instance, they have been criticized for relying too much on formal compliance, rather than taking into account sufficiently agents and their moral development, or promoting self-reflexive behaviors.
We aim here at showing that a code of ethics in fact has meaning and enables ethical progress when it is interpreted and appropriated with practical wisdom. We explore a model that represents an uncommon organizational code of ethics: the monastic Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century and still used today.
Our empirical study— conducted in several monasteries living under this rule— shows that organization members interpret this rule, both hermeneutically and ethically, to adapt it to situations. They also appropriate this rule as a way of life and treat it as a dynamic framework that helps them to follow their purpose within their organization. This exceptional code actually offers an alternative model for practicing codes of ethics, in a virtue-ethical manner, beyond mere compliance with the text.
The way in which reflexive and active agents practice the code, both individually and collectively, shapes their organizational experience and fosters their moral development.
Guillaume Mercier is a PhD student at ESCP Europe.