Instrumental and Integrative Ethics in the Context of a Knowledge Management Policy


  • Manfred Bornemann Intangible Assets Consulting GmbH



knowledge management, policy, business ethics, ISO 30401


Governance structures and Knowledge Management Systems standards such as ISO 30401 and ISO 9001 ask for policies for knowledge management but leave open, how such a policy might be detailed. Depending on the preferences of owners, management or more extensive stakeholder groups, the assumptions about what is good and can therefore be considered as ethical, vary substantially. In the German literature, two authors represent two extremes of a wide spectrum of business ethics: Peter Ulrich and his Integrative Economic Ethics (Ulrich, 2007), positioning ethical behavior above all other corporate objectives on the one (politically left) side and Karl Homann with the Instrumental Ethic (Homann, 1999) and the general idea to maximize shareholder value on the other (politically right) side. Both European continental authors are distinct from the Anglo-American tradition of “business ethics” represented by Solomon (1994), Donaldson and Dunfee (1999) or Freemann (1984), who are, in general, less focused on principles, but suggest procedures that avoid risks for organizations (or their top managers) of being framed as unethical.

Knowledge as an intangible asset and different to tangibles such as money, goods, or infrastructure, is usually not controlled by investors, but by employees of an organization and thus affects problems of agency (Jensen, 1976) or stewardship (Donaldson, 1982) in corporate governance. Questions of ownership, modes of sharing and transferring knowledge to development of new knowledge and strategies of utilizing knowledge to create value need to be answered in a way to attract the best knowledge professionals. The answers might help formulate a formally consistent policy for knowledge management that considers either position – or come up with a more balanced approach, which could be implemented with established governance structures or ethic management systems (Wieland, 2014).

This paper discusses two qualitative positions of Homann and Ulrich in the context of knowledge management systems and knowledge as a corporate resource with the ambition to suggest recommendations to formulate a knowledge management policy that delivers on the formal requirements of ISO 30401.