There is value in the discussion of whether or not going to war is just or unjust, as a business decision to carry out a particular course of action can might have similar justifications. A business has numerous stakeholders that need to be taken into account during the planning of a decision, and with who positive and negative impacts will invariably arise when a decision is finally executed. The terms just and unjust come with it a lot of baggage that deals with legality and morality, especially in the conduct of one of humanity’s most important human activities; organized violence, but that is the same for every other activity, only to a less severe degree. Just and unjust is about the justification for doing something, obviously, but in this way can mean the same thing as actions you “could and should do” and those that you “could and shouldn't do.”
Walzer provided his four conditions for accepting noncombatant casualties, mentioned above, which is, in reality, merely a method for determining under what conditions doing something that is unjust becomes something that is just. Or in more simple terms by assessing the four conditions, you may make a course of action that you normally shouldn't execute into a course of action that you should execute. We are basically playing with ethics. We can know that an action is inherently unethical, but when you have multiple unethical options in which we have to choose, the four conditions provide you an option for picking the least unethical. Rephrasing those four conditions for business:
- That the action is a legitimate business activity.
- That the desired effect of executing that action builds toward a greater business aim.
- That the undesirable effects aren’t the intention of the action itself.
- That the positive outcome achieved is greater or equal to the negative effects produced.
Looking at these four conditions, we don't necessarily see much difference:
(1) Not all activities that a business can conduct are related to the ultimate purpose of the company. Peter Drucker said that "there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer." From this, we are to presume that all other activities for the business should be geared towards doing what is required to "create a customer." This includes activities that are both focused on getting your product or service known to the customer, and making new, or improving upon existing, products and services in order to entice them. There are other non-business activities that can be undertaken, but if those activities create an ethical dilemma, then it violates the first condition.
(2) All actions should be based on working towards the desired end. If your desired end includes increasing profits, then activities that lead you towards that end would be a wise decision. So what actions would do that? Well, you naturally determine it through an effects-based approach by working backwards from the end. The equation is profit equals revenue minus cost. So activities that work towards increasing revenues or reducing costs are, therefore, steering us towards the desired end of increased profits. Working towards the end supports this second condition.
(3) There are times in which people desire to engage in activities that don't directly serve the ends of the business in any meaningful way. In the worst situations, they work against it, such as the purposeful production of undesirable effects. I am not saying that undesirable effects won't be produced, as you may be able to predict undesirable effects, but this third condition is about whether those effects are the intention or merely a collateral effect. Why would anyone desire to do something undesirable? From what I have seen, I would say character flaws. Some people react to anger by lashing out spitefully, and this can result in regretful actions in engagements with customers, suppliers, and partners; depending on whom or what angered them. Selfishness, too, can lead to decisions where a person places their own immediate gains over that of the company.
(4) This final condition should be obvious and applies to any profession, job, or endeavor. In the conduct of any business, there is little reason to undertake an action that costs a company more than it gains. The most likely scenario when this can occur is the short-term gains at the expense of long-term benefits. Saving money by closing down underperforming stores and laying off a certain number of employees may save you in the near term, but does it save the company and, therefore, the remaining stakeholders in the long-term? Shutting down stores and laying off personnel is a business decision, but it is also a disruption in the lives of the stakeholders involved. There may be other ways to increase their performance, different strategies, or unique market conditions that you can exploit. Regardless, ethically speaking, there is some social responsibility required of companies towards those that they employ, just as much as those employees have a responsibility to the company. But there is something to be said about sacrificing a few to save the whole. You will not be doing anyone any favors if the entire business goes under as all stakeholders would be harmed in the process.
Quoting Peter Drucker from Management: Revised Edition one again,
“It is, similarly, a value question whether a business should be run for short-term results or for ‘the long-run.’ Financial analysts believe that businesses can be run for both, simultaneously. Successful businessmen know better. To be sure, everyone has to produce short-term results. But in any conflict between short-term results and long-term growth, one company decides in favor of long-term growth, another company decides such a conflict in favor of short-term results. Again, this is not primarily a disagreement on economics. It is fundamentally a value conflict regarding the function of a business and the responsibility of management.”
So in this way, we aren’t saying that one particular course of action is better than another in regards to some desired end, like increased profits. What we are saying is that through the four conditions, you can select a course of action that effectively balances ethical imperatives with your company's strategic aims. It wouldn't be like saying, "Which is better, increased profits or ethical decision-making?" Instead, it is more akin to, "can I increase profits while still occupying an ethical position?" Or rephrasing it for military targeting, "can I attack this target in a way and still be justified in doing so?" You may not have the whole cake, but you can still eat some of it!
Rehashing what we said, Walzer has put forth four conditions by which he argued you could be justified in the taking of noncombatant life during an attack on a military target. It is a process to determine an answer to an important question, which is the least unethical decision, allowing noncombatants to perish by your hands or allowing the target to go unstruck and prolong the conflict? There is a way to use this for similar business decisions as I have said previously, but there is more to be found and applied from this book.
Walzer discusses the imperatives of warfighters in the conduct of their missions. The risks that they must assume to make warfare less hellish on the noncombatants that may be harmed in the area of operations. He discusses the ways nations view and change their own strategic aims based on the realities they see. He even makes suggestions for how such aims should be adjusted. His book is about the undertaking of humanity's most significant and unethical endeavors, warfare, and making it more ethical. The consequences of business failure aren't as severe, but just as crucial for all the stakeholders involved. Learning from Walzer, therefore, in the just waging and conduct of warfare may very well provide you a moral perspective by which you can guide your business.