Ronald Dworkin: Trust and Treating Each Other as Equals

Posted: 12/22/2017 - 05:08

In anticipation of the return of Kate Vitasek’s column “The Academics of Sourcing,” Outsource is pleased to showcase some of her best articles from the archives.

“The Academics of Sourcing” is a series that regularly shares some of the best academic insights and translates the learnings from academia into sound advice for practitioners.

Read on to get reacquainted with Kate Vitasek’s insight and experience into the world of sourcing and the academics behind it. 

This month’s column features big thinker Ronald Dworkin. I like Dworkin because he tackles and integrates major ideas in ethics, morality, equality, justice and the “unity of value.” One of his most famous of many books is entitled Justice for Hedgehogs

Don’t let the humorous book title fool you; there’s no question that Dworkin is a heavyweight. Dworkin is a Professor of Philosophy and the Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London. 

In a talk he gave on Justice for Hedgehogs he says that law, when properly understood, “is a branch of morality, not something distinct from it.” Then he emphasizes the “distinct virtue of moral responsibility” that should be present in laws and in the justice system that interprets laws. 

That means that another important moral virtue must be considered: responsibility. “Though we cannot demand agreement from our fellow citizens, we can demand responsibility and we must therefore develop a theory of responsibility in sufficient detail so that we can say to some people, ‘I disagree with you, but I recognize the integrity of your argument. I recognize your responsibility.’” 

While his subject matter is generally concerned with law, government and political morality, the implications of his thinking for business relationships – acting responsibly and ethically, treating others as equals – is also apparent. One of my favorite parts of Dworkin’s work is his emphasis on what are known as fundamental “norms” and principles in the legal system. The most fundamental norm, he says, is to treat each other as equals. Fundamental norms, from Dworkin and others, also include the norms of autonomy, vigilance, trust, loyalty, integrity, reciprocity and equivalence. 

My question is this: if those are fundamental norms, why aren’t they, well, more normally apparent in the business and outsourcing world? The answer, as I see it, is that we remain too locked into “I-win-you-lose” thinking and highly protective, formalistic and legalistic approaches to contracting. Simply put, how often do we come to the negotiating table or the procurement process with the idea of treating each other as equals? 

This is where I believe the implications of the Vested business model come in. The Vested model creates collaborative partnerships that share value and help companies “get to the we” as they strive for the ever-elusive win-win that we all know is important to achieve – but so many can’t reach because of selfish win-lose behaviors embedded in today’s business mindset. I am so passionate about this that in 2013, I joined forced with Jeanette Nyden and Jacqui Crawford (co-author of The Vested Outsourcing Manual) on a book, Getting to We. We also recruited Tim Cummins, President of IACCM, and David Frydlinger, Partner / Head of ICT group at Advokatfirman Lindahl – two of the brightest minds in the business when it comes to contracting in a fair and equitable manner. 

This book was an effort to help companies in the negotiation process address move beyond simply getting to yes. It was written to help companies develop sustainable and Vested relationships that drive innovation. 

Dworkin’s work played an important role in shaping our thinking and for that we owe him our gratitude. His fabulous work demonstrated that there is a direct relationship and interplay between fundamental norms and trust. 

Simply put, there is deep ethical value, as well as monetary value, in playing nice.


About The Author

Kate Vitasek's picture

Kate Vitasek is an international authority for her award-winning research and Vested business model for highly collaborative relationships. She is the author of six books on the Vested model and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee. She has been lauded by World Trade Magazine as one of the “Fabulous 50+1” most influential people impacting global commerce.