The ethical frontier refers to areas of uncertainty – particularly when people operate in untested waters where there is little in the way of moral and legal precedent to determine ethically sound behavior. The uncertainty can be created from technology, in that it raises new problems and issues not faced previously, but political and social changes may also shift what is considered ethically permissible. Having an awareness of both the enduring and changing aspects of ethics can give one perspective in approaching the unexpected ethical issues of our times.
The future is ultimately the responsibility of all of us. That is especially apparent at the ethical frontier. Precisely because there are no established guidelines, the assignment of blame and responsibility will have to be “made up” to some extent. Doing this well, through stakeholder networks proactively shaping solutions that work for all is critical. We all have a stake in avoiding the “race to the bottom” where all stakeholders try to avoid or shirk responsibility and no-one addresses the problems before they are forced to do so. Not only could this entail substantially higher costs for firms that end up “holding the bag” when government does step in, it also leaves society paying to clean up large messes that, depending on the technology involved (e.g. genetic engineering), may have huge costs involved. Firms need to foster dynamic cooperation and specific processes with their stakeholders to enable them to handle the kinds of issues faced on the frontier.
Responsibility at the frontier is the social force that binds the manager to courses of action demanded by that force. This is the force that holds managers of being accountable or answerable to the society when he carrying out his function of management. Responsibility at the frontier extends from the efficiency of the production process to responsibility to preserve the environment. It extends from leading the employees to using technology in a socially responsible manner.
Why do managers need to think about responsibility ?
The managers need to take responsibility in the context where society and key stakeholders do not know what is going on. The managers at the frontier will be blamed if something goes wrong. However the managers should not wait for something to go wrong. They should become watchdogs of the stakeholders and protect their interest. The managers must protect the interests of employees when they are recruiting, evaluating, or taking disciplinary action. The managers must protect the interests of the shareholders when they report profits, distribute dividends, or protect the assets of the firm. They must protect the interest of the community when they protect the environment, pay taxes or undertake development for the community. From the deontological ethical perspective it is the duty of the managers to take responsibility for different stakeholders and protect their respective interests.