Jeremy Willinger's blog

Varying Tasks to Increase Compliance

A new study illustrates how providing variety in job-related tasks for workers contributes to rule adherence and stymies unethical decision making.

The paper “Reducing Organizational Rule Breaking Through Task Variety: How Task Design Supports Deliberative Thinking,” is authored by Rellie Derfler-Rozin, ES collaborator Celia Moore and Bradley R. Staats and published in Organization Science.  The authors discuss the positive implications of this research for designing roles and responsibilities in various organizational settings, and the beneficial outcomes for both workers and businesses.

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Ethical Decision Making: Easy in Training, Harder in Reality

Over the course of a workday, people make innumerable decisions ranging in degrees of severity, from critical to mundane. Often times, choices are made in a vacuum and are considered for only as long as it takes until the next intellectual dilemma or distraction demands our attention. A recent piece by Eugene Soltes in Harvard Business Review explores the difficulty around  ethical decision-making, while also exploring the gap between attempts to train or educate people on organizational ethics and the real-world pressures people face when face with an ethical dilemma (or even recognizing that they may be in an ethical quandary).

Soltes, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, points to a variety of executive misdoings by ostensibly smart and talented— not to mention prominent— leaders that illustrate that even those under scrutiny and fully aware of their responsibility for shareholder funds can act in self-serving ways that, in retrospect, they realize are obviously unethical. And, as Soltes writes, in hindsight the fact that these were adverse decisions are not lost on  these individuals, but in the moment they failed to consider the impact or consequences.

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Interview with Rashmi Airan: Law, Blindspots, Prison and Redemption

An interview with Rashmi Airan, speaker on ethics, law and culture; leadership and compliance consultant; and growth strategist

 

Background:

Rashmi was a successful lawyer who graduated with honors from Columbia Law School. After working for several major corporations, she launched an independent law practice in Miami, Florida. During the housing boom, she was recruited to work with a local real-estate developer who later engaged in shady business practices. Her involvement resulted in a one year sentence in Federal prison, alongside a $19M judgment against future earnings, required community service hours and 3 years supervised release.  As a mother of two and devoted community activist, Rashmi has reconfigured her subsequent career to focus on growth strategies and leadership/compliance training for firms, corporations, and graduate schools.  She has also become widely known as a public speaker, sharing her story to help illustrate the ethical perils and situations that can result from a drive to succeed and the blindspots created when pursuing a goal.

This interview has been edited and condensed from a conversation on January 19, 2017.

 

1) What are the main takeaways from your story that you want others to know?

I believe there are many reasons why I am telling my story. I want to help people so that they do not find themselves in the same predicament that I was in and make different choices when faced with daily “gray” decisions.  I finally came to a place of peace that I had done something wrong when I gave myself the freedom to forgive.  After I forgave myself, my lessons became clearer. I reflected on different business relationships and the fact that I had not looked into things deeply enough.  I know there are lessons for both young and seasoned professionals. I believe I can enlighten people to the fact that there is a fine line and we must all walk between the two sides of right and wrong and choose to be on the right side of the line.

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Behavioral Ethics: From nudges to norms

Scott Killingsworth, Senior Counsel with Bryan Cave, LLP, writes a broadly applicable and thought-provoking piece on nudges vs. culture. Killingsworth illustrates how a strong ethical culture can take the place of consistent, ongoing nudges and shows that culture should be considered through the lens of not just preventing ethical mishaps, but also about creating a positive environment “where the good apples can thrive”. 

We encourage you to read this informative article >>

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2016 Collaborators in the News: A Year of Many Achievements

2016 was a year of many achievements for our growing collaborator network. We invite you to browse a highlight list of the research, articles, appearances and talks that helped advance our mission and promote a greater understanding of ethics, decision making, and ethical systems design.

Browse our collaborators and their highlights and achievements from this year >>

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MBA: Means Being Aware to Short-Termism

It takes a commitment to business and a desire to better oneself that motivates earning a Master in Business Administration. The degree is seen as a passport to financial success and business leadership, a necessary piece of the puzzle should you want to attain keys to the executive suite.

Yet, a new study by Danny Miller, research professor at HEC Montreal and Xiaowei Xu, an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island shows that for MBA-holders who go on to lead companies and achieve a level of recognition in mainstream media, self-interested behavior becomes more apparent and their firms can suffer as a result.

Acknowledging that earning an MBA does not cause people to be any less reliable, honest or ethical than others, Miller and Xu’s findings have implications for executive compensation, the dangers of short-termism and how the drive to be distinguished among peers may create a blind spot when thinking about other areas of the business.

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Ethical Systems Design: Crosspost from AuditFutures

ethics-conf-p2Cross posted from the AuditFutures Blog. See original post here.

 

On 23rd November, we hosted a conference exploring the concept of organisational culture and what systemic approaches we can take to foster ethical culture within organisations, particularly professional service firms. This interdisciplinary conference engaged around 100 leading international academics, business leaders and accounting professionals in a holistic discussion on the significant role of culture in organisations.

The event built on our Future Firms project which explores in a systemic way the interdependencies of the different aspects of the firm: culture, governance, technology, services, structure, and people and what this means for the future of .

Our Ethics by Design Conference explored the key challenges and trends, faced through the interaction between the three levels of employees, the organisation and society. Participants explored the possible design ideas that can be implemented to work towards overcoming these challenges and forming a more ethical culture.

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Corporate Scandal, Reputation Risks and Common Sense

When corporate scandal occurs- whether it makes headlines or not- there is a tendency to blame bad apples instead of examining the organizational culture to identify areas in need of further improvement or oversight.

In a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, Lou Gerstner, a former chairman and CEO of IBM and RJR Nabisco, now chairman of the board of directors at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, outlines why there is continued misunderstanding around culture and the various ways companies undercut their own efforts to strengthen it.

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Featured Ethics Scholar for October: Charles H.Green

Interview with Charles H. Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates

 

What are your main areas of research?

I’m not an academic, so I’ll have to define “research” a little loosely. But for the last 20 years, what I’ve focused on is the role played by trust in business relationships, particularly complex B2B relationships – and particularly in sales and in advisory relationships.

In practice, that has meant pointing out a distinction rarely used in business, even though it’s fairly obvious: the relationship between the trustor and the trustee.  You can’t talk about trust in practical terms without distinguishing between those two very distinct roles (though most general discussions about ’trust’ do just that).  The trustor initiates the relationship by taking a risk; the trustee responds, or not. And then the roles shift for the next go-round. Trust is iterative, dynamic, and creates itself around risk. 

I have also focused on the role of personal relationships rather than institutional relationships, because trust is like politics – as Tip O’Neill said years ago, it’s all local.  Or personal, in the case of trust. Institutional trust, like branding, is a far weaker force. The role of institutions in trust is largely to foster or hinder personal trust.

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ETSY: A Positive Culture of Negative Confessions

What happens when people make a mistake at work? That depends on the culture of the organization- covering it up or passing the buck are options when competition drives behavior or if there is a low trust environment. But at Etsy, employees are not only asked to own up to their errors but reveal them to the entire company.

In a recent piece on Quartz, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson revealed that people at the company are encouraged to document their mistakes, how they happened and what they learned from it, in public emails. The company “also gives out an annual award—a real three-armed sweater— to whomever who made the most surprising error, not the worst one, as a reminder to examine the gap between how things are expected to happen and how they actually do.”

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