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Title: Creating an agile ethics and ethical compliance consulting practice in Ontario's automotive retail industry
Author: Jegede, Femi
ISNI:       0000 0004 8506 247X
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2019
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This doctoral thesis is centered around an Action Research inquiry aimed at revamping the ethics advisory practice at Dealers R’Us Ltd., an automotive management consulting firm located in Ontario, Canada. The inquiry occurred in four phases and over two action cycles. In Phase I, a semi-structured questionnaire administered to eighty automotive dealers and salespeople at four client organizations suggested that the firm’s ethics consulting practice was not adaptive to varied situational contexts and unpredictable changes in the regulatory domain. This resulted in abysmal ethical compliance rates, regulatory fines, and general client dissatisfaction. A thematic analysis of open-ended responses provided by respondents yielded five broad themes - knowledge gaps, organizational structure, interpersonal relationships, internal collaboration, and service design. The objective of this interventive research is to create an agile ethics advisory practice through the generation of actionable knowledge that addresses the aforementioned thematic angles. By leveraging the emancipatory capacity of social constructivism in Phase II, an internal focus group comprising of fifteen stakeholders, utilized Soft System Methodology, an Action Research approach to elucidate the organizational problem. The structured inquiry culminated in the first cycle of remedial actions with implications for the firm’s personnel, internal politics, corporate structure, and go-to-market strategy. In Phase III, organizational outcomes were validated internally and externally through the reflexive analysis of data collected with semi-structured questionnaires and focus group interviews in the post-intervention era. Open-ended responses were explored using thematic analysis. Due to the small size of the firm, a total population sampling strategy was adopted within the organization encompassing all twenty internal stakeholders. Critical case data sampling was carried out at a representative client site in a test case ethical compliance consulting project that involved twenty-eight external stakeholders. In the post-intervention survey, 87% of the external respondents agreed that Dealers R’Us’ ethics and ethical compliance program became responsive to varied and evolving ethical compliance needs in Ontario’s automotive retail industry. In contrast, only 16% of survey respondents agreed with the same statement in the pre-intervention phase. This outcome resulted from a reduction in consultant knowledge gaps; a transition from a hierarchical functional organizational structure to a matrix structure comprised of interdisciplinary teams; a deliberate focus on improving interpersonal relationships between consultants; the equalization of power within the firm and a service redesign effort that entailed the field colocation of interdisciplinary teams. In Phase IV, this outcome informed a second action cycle geared towards an entrenchment of the transformative research agenda. Based on agreements in management literature, I conceptualized agility using ideas from Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) theory including self-organization and spontaneous emergence. Other applied theories include Social Identity Theory and Contingency Theory. The results obtained challenge the traditional approach to ethics consulting. They inspired the development and recommendation of a Conceptual Framework for Agile Ethics Consulting to the firm. This original contribution to ethics advisory practice and consulting literature codifies relevant agility drivers, enablers, capabilities and practices. Foundational recommendations border on data proximity, selective contingency, the establishment of active feedback loops, incremental solution execution; the attainment of a common internal identity and the incentivization of strong interpersonal bonds within the firm. For automotive dealerships, this inquiry provides accessibility to custom-tailored ethical compliance programs, higher compliance rates and the mitigation of risks and liabilities resulting from non-compliance. In a reflective manner, I draw conclusions on the post-intervention status of the ethics practice under review based on CAS theory metrics. In addition to taking stock of my scholar-practitioner experience, I also discuss transitions in my leadership philosophy. The small size of Dealers R’Us translates into a relatively small sample size. This is a research limitation that must be considered when interpreting the outcomes of this research. The collection of data from external sources at different intervals and the utilization of multiple dialectics afforded by Soft System Methodology helped to seek out disconfirming evidence and mitigate this limitation. The infancy of the proposed conceptual framework makes it an appropriate target for future research and validation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral