Moral imagination training: A case study manual

In the last two decades, we have witnessed many organizational scandals and failures that were not only of a purely economic nature. Rather, we could characterize them as moral failures. It is the growing number of such cases that convinces us of the practical need to justify the contribution of a specific type of ethical theory within organizations.

Ethics in organizations is becoming an increasingly discussed topic. We live in a time when we have to realize that underestimating social and ethical problems in organizations can lead not only to their decline, but gradually to the decline of the entire society. That is why we should realize that if we want our organizations to really function and achieve significant social and economic goals, they must undergo a certain change.

Today, ethics is becoming one of the means of socially desirable development of organizations. Ethical experts nowadays propose tools and strategies for their development and increasing culture or reputation, but also performance. Moral development is only possible based on the application of a professional ethical approach and relevant ethical tools. One of the ethical tools that we can use in developing the moral capabilities of not only managers and leaders, but also employees in our organizations, is the concept of moral imagination.

The author of the concept of moral imagination is a prominent expert in the field of organizational leadership and behavior, emeritus professor Patricia Werhane.

She understands moral imagination as a thinking process. It involves certain gradual steps (processes) aimed at supporting moral action, which can only occur if an individual or a team is able to evaluate the situation from an ethical point of view.

The main mission of moral imagination is to improve the quality of decision-making with regard to the consequences of decisions in relation to all interested parties, the so-called stakeholders.

Knowledge of psychology and business ethics point to the fact that ethical behavior depends on our ability to:

a) recognize immorality

b) moral intention

c) moral decision

d) moral imagination

Each component must lead to a result - namely to ethical action. Moral imagination thus represents a form of argumentation. According to P. Werhane, it is a model of the ethical decision-making process.

In the process of developing moral imagination, it is important to enable stakeholders, e.g. managers, but also other employees, to imagine different alternatives of decisions that actually exist. Alternatively, whether we can think about new alternatives when thinking more deeply. It can arise when supporting new constructs of our thinking, the so-called "out of box thinking". In this process, training case studies play an important role, which can fundamentally support the moral sensitivity and imagination of the participants.

We find it very useful to offer you a way to approach the creation of such case studies.

Case study manual

Your case study should retell a story that contains a moral dilemma. So before you begin, you will need to thoroughly understand the following factors related to creating your case study. This means that much of the work is done before you start writing.

For example, if you plan to write about building relationships between specific stakeholders, the first step is to gather relevant information about those stakeholders. The following questions may be very helpful for you in this initial process:

  • Who are the actors of the case study?
  • What are the main interests of our primary stakeholders? How do we influence these interests? How do these interests affect us?
  • Who are the groups and individuals who can influence these stakeholders? Who are the stakeholders of these stakeholders? And if the interests of each of them?
  • How does this group of stakeholders perceive us? What assumptions do they make about us? What assumptions do we make about them?
  • What are the natural partnerships that could arise? Where are the common interests? What do we and the stakeholders have in common? What are the most risky points of conflict?
  • What can support better cooperation and better relations between individual stakeholders?

Create your case study

Now that you have the information you need, you can start writing. Like a story, good case studies have a beginning, middle, and end.

First, introduce the protagonists of the story - all the stakeholders - as well as the moral dilemma we are trying to resolve. Your audience should be able to relate to your case study. Take into account the entire context of your business environment, your basic demographic and target market, and provide the issues which you face most often in your company or in the department.

Then present the solution. But do not make the mistake of stating the obvious. List three to four alternatives (A, B, C, D) of how you might approach solving the problem. Highlight the possible consequences of these alternatives. How can it help or hurt your stakeholders? Prepare a rationale for all alternatives – impacting all stakeholders.

Please be prepared to make the last part interactive to engage colleagues in finding the best solution for this case study as part of your project presentation. You ask your colleagues what is the best solution to this problem: alternative A, alternative B, alternative C or D? You let them think and then provide your suggestions with reasons why you think a particular alternative A, B, C or D is the best.

Case studies can be a useful tool for improving your understanding of the real meaning of building good, sustainable relationships with your stakeholders (internal and external), as well as for training the creative and moral imagination of you and your colleagues. This area was the subject of our open webinar "Moral imagination and managerial decision-making". You can access the webinar recording for free via the button below.

Replay the webinar