American Red Cross: Organizational Culture Ethics

The American Red Cross (ARC) is a large non-profit organization that was created to provide humanitarian relief. Since 1882, ARC promoted Americans’ safety by providing disaster responses, as well as collecting and distributing blood (Grube, Haeffele-Balch, & Davies, 2017). ARC has also been operating outside of the US (Armengol, 2014; Grube et al., 2017). Moreover, the organization contributes to research and has pushed the American government toward adopting important documents, for example, the Geneva Convention (Armengol, 2014). ARC’s policies are thought-out and careful; they include evidence- and ethics-guided requirements, which are informed by the organization’s experience and prior public responses. However, ARC has been criticized for multiple reasons, especially those related to its management practices (Armengol, 2014; Grube et al., 2017; Smith & Grove, 2016). The present paper will consider one of the core issues that appear to be connected to ARC’s culture: its monocentric administration.

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Organizational culture, just like societal ones, incorporates aspects like norms, beliefs, traditions, and basic assumptions that are present within an organization (McNeal, 2010). Currently, researchers agree that organizational cultures are likely to have an impact on organizations’ operations (Cooper, 2012; Kurtz, 2003; McNeal, 2010). Specifically, culture affects human behavior and informs decision-making, eventually having consequences for policies and practices. Policies and practices are developed and upheld by people who operate under particular beliefs, and their ethical or unethical nature is determined by subjective views (Armengol, 2014). The situation is not uncommon, and it can be found in ARC.

A lot of criticisms that have been directed at ARC are connected to inefficient management. In particular, bureaucracy is noteworthy: ARC has been described as monocentric (Grube et al., 2017), and this factor could be rooted in the organization’s culture (American Red Cross, 2019). In order to demonstrate that this practice can be regarded as an ethical dilemma that is connected to ARC’s organizational culture, Cooper’s (2012) decision-making model will be applied to it. According to the model, a number of steps have to be taken to resolve ethical dilemmas, but apart from that, it is an analysis tool that can help to examine an issue.

The first step of the model consists of determining if there is an ethical dilemma and defining it. Bureaucracy is a major issue that is not limited to ethical concerns; in fact, it is rather complex and manifests in a variety of ways (Grube et al., 2017). However, especially in the case of a humanitarian organization that focuses on assisting during crises, bureaucracy can have ethical consequences. As reported by some of the volunteers, bureaucracy in ARC can make the mission “stand aside while we follow the procedure” (Smith & Grove, 2016, p. 364). The usual consequences of ARC’s bureaucracy include slow response, difficulty in determining the required resources, problems with their allocation, and even misplacement and mismanagement of funds (Armengol, 2014; Grube et al., 2017; Smith & Grove, 2016). In addition, it has been suggested that the monocentric approach to disaster management limits the ability of ARC to cooperate with local relief providers (Grube et al., 2017). The latter issue is particularly problematic; still, given the consequences of bureaucracy for a humanitarian response organization, ARC’s bureaucratic management practices are ethically questionable from multiple perspectives.

Furthermore, Cooper (2012) suggests describing the context of the problem. The reasons for ARC’s monocentric methods cannot be limited to one factor (Grube et al., 2017). However, from the perspective of its organizational culture, ARC has several key principles, and the one that is of interest to this paper is unity. According to ARC, the unity value means that “there can be only one Red Cross society in any one country” (American Red Cross, 2019, para. 13). Since the monocentric approach of ARC has been there since its establishment, this norm probably reflects it rather than serves as its primary cause. Still, Grube et al. (2017) show that over the course of its development, ACR remained monocentric, which implies that this principle may proceed to affect the organization’s management practices. Also, Grube et al. (2017) show that decentralization in disaster management is a relatively recent development; ARC was created in a culture that favored centralized management. Thus, at least one of the issues that foster ARC’s bureaucracy maybe its organizational culture.

Based on this analysis, a decision about ARC’s approach to management needs to be made. The next stage of Cooper’s (2012) model consists of determining what can be done; a number of alternatives need to be named and evaluated based on the consequences of each (Cooper, 2012). The two primary options would be to either proceed with the currently employed practice or change it. Here, it is noteworthy that non-monocentric humanitarian organizations exist, and they are reported to have better results than monocentric ones (Grube et al., 2017). From this perspective, the evidence-based solution would be to push ARC towards less centralized practices. Thus, based on Cooper’s (2012) model and research in the field, the ethical solution to the presented dilemma would consist of changing ARC’s management practices.

The transformation from a centralized to a decentralized organization would take a lot of time and effort. Similarly, cultural change is difficult, but it is possible, and it can be directed through administration efforts (McNeal, 2010). Since the company’s approach to management appears to be rooted in its culture, both need to be changed simultaneously. Moreover, both internal and external controls can assist in resolving the issue (Cooper, 2012), but the currently existing external controls would work against the change. Indeed, the existing value of unity and the current beliefs about appropriate management practices are not in line with the desired course of development. An individual administrator would not be able to resolve the problem on his or her own, but he or she could set the change in motion.

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First, the presented analysis, which uses Cooper’s (2012) model, could be enhanced with more examples of the negative consequences of current practices and more extensive research on decentralized approaches to humanitarian aid and their outcomes. Then, it would be provided to ARC’s managers for consideration; it would be especially helpful to involve higher tiers of management. This way, the administrator would promote the development of external controls, for example, codes of ethics (American Society for Public Administration, 2013). If ARC changes its policies and principles, such documents will assist in ensuring ethical management practices. However, internal controls are also important. The idea of unity is not inherently harmful, but it could use reimagining in a way that would promote decentralization. The internal controls of individual managers could be adjusted through training as well (Cooper, 2012). It may be recommended to start with one experimental chapter of ARC, which would produce very convincing evidence since it would be directly applicable to ARC’s context.

Thus, ARC’s management practices can be viewed as ethically problematic because they are not evidence-based and result in very significant negative consequences. This problem has been present in ARC since its establishment, but as new humanitarian organizations demonstrate the benefits of decentralization, ARC cannot proceed to ignore the problem. Changes in the organization’s culture-based approach to management would be difficult, and one administrator is unlikely to be able to complete it. However, an administrator can start the process and actively participate in the development and application of internal and external controls, ensuring ethical management in ARC.

References

American Red Cross. (2019). Mission & values. Web.

American Society for Public Administration. (2013). Practices to promote the ASPA code of ethics. Web.

Armengol, R. (2014). American Red Cross: Institutional transparency requires surveillance of institutional actors. In D. G. Johnson & P. M. Regan (Eds.), Transparency and surveillance as sociotechnical accountability: A house of mirrors (pp. 59–78). New York, NY: Routledge.

Cooper, T. L. (2012). The responsible administrator: An approach to ethics for the administrative role (6th ed.). New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.

Grube, L., Haeffele-Balch, S., & Davies, E. (2017). The organizational evolution of the American National Red Cross: An Austrian and Bloomington approach to organizational growth and expansion. The Austrian and Bloomington Schools of Political Economy, 2017, 103-119. Web.

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Kurtz, R. S. (2003). Organizational culture, decision-making, and integrity: The National Park Service and the Exxon Valdez. Public Integrity, 5(4), 305–317. Web.

McNeal, G. S. (2010). Organizational culture, professional ethics and Guantanamo. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, 42(1/2), 125–149. Web.

Smith, S., & Grove, C. (2016). Bittersweet and paradoxical. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 27(3), 353-369. Web.

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