ethics pays

A Long Term Fix for Our Short Term Focus on Corporate Culture and Profits

In a society and culture that emphasizes the new and the now what does it mean to manage for the long term? If we want what we want when we want it, businesses that take a multi-year perspective may be misaligned with modern expectations by shareholders to maximize profits, almost immediately.

Today’s businesses have morphed into revenue generators designed to squeeze every ounce of productivity and profit from its people and operations. Many corporate leaders see their role as the facilitator of shareholder enrichment. Coupled with a culture of instant gratification, it is not that shocking to see the reinforcement from the field as to what it means to be a successful enterprise.

However, a new article in Harvard Business Review by authors Joseph Bower and Lynn Paine of Harvard Business School argues that the entire basis for the popularity of shareholder primacy is deeply flawed and that its growing reliance excludes real opportunities for sustained growth and imperils the broader economy.

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Lapsed Priorities: New Survey reveals lack of focus on bribery and corruption

If the following survey results are any indication, a betting man would be doubling down on increased FCPA cases in 2016.

The study by international law firm Hogan Lovells and reported in the International Business Times highlights that, for over half of multinational companies, fighting bribery and corruption does not feature as a main priority.

The piece reveals that old habits die hard. A focus on short term sales goals, making deadlines/sales quotas and operating in areas where bribery runs rampant contribute to a casual attitude towards maintaining ethical behavior and staying true to internal values and external regulations.

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Earthquakes and Shaky Ethics: The Perils of Construction Corruption

A study in Nature shows that our planet has a lot to teach us about business ethics. While we know that ethics pays, what is also now clear is that the absence of ethics can kill.

Nicholas Ambraseys of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London and Roger Bilham from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder compared deaths from earthquakes and found that “83% of all deaths from building collapse in earthquakes over the past 30 years occurred in countries that are anomalously corrupt.” This is all the more staggering when you consider that the researchers removed any contributing factors, such as poor building materials, from their analysis.

The construction industry is an industry both highly valued and highly susceptible to corruption. Governments, regulators, businesses and workers all have a vested interest in reducing and eliminating bribery and other practices that put people at risk. Without a systemic approach to reducing corruption and improving ethics, it won’t just be buildings that crumble; trust, stability and the long-term viability of a governmental body also risk imminent collapse.

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Buddha Makes the Business Case for Business Ethics

Part 1 of 2 on my talk at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival.

In just the last few years, there has been a lot of new research showing when and why ethics pays. I recently pulled this evidence together for a talk I gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I set up the argument by quoting Buddha’s version of the business case:

Set your heart on doing good.
Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy.
A fool is happy until his mischief turns against him.
And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers.

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Featured Collaborator of July/August: David Mayer

Interview with David Mayer, associate professor in the Management and Organizations Area at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

What are your main areas of research? 

I am an organizational scholar who focuses primarily on one fundamental question: When and why do individuals in organizations engage in unethical and prosocial behavior? More specifically, I am interested how the social environment in organizations (e.g., leadership, peers, organizational climate, organizational practices) impacts unethical and prosocial behavior.

I am also fascinated with the question of whether employees and leaders think that business and work are part of the moral domain of social life and I have worked on several papers that demonstrate that at times “business” and “ethics” are inseparable and at times they are, as the truism suggests, an oxymoron.

In contrast to the bulk of work taking a social science lens on ethics, I typically take a positive lens by not focusing solely on identifying pitfalls and biases that lead to unethical behavior, but by understanding how the context at work can improve prosocial behavior, how employees and leaders in organizations can influence others to do good, and when leaders and employees are most likely to act in ways that suggest they consider work to be a moral domain.

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Ethics Pays in Business, as in Politics

People often say they want a strong leader more than an ethical leader. David Brooks has a lovely essay in The New York Times demonstrating why this thinking is wrong for political leaders. But the quotes from the article below shows that the argument works just as well for business leaders as it does for politicians.

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Rediscovering the Human Purposes of Business, by Mark Goyder

Below is the text of a speech given by Mark Goyder, Founder and Director of Tomorrow’s Company, at the Caux Initiatives for Business Conference, Panchgani India, on 12 November 2013. Goyder sent me (Jon Haidt) the text of this speech when we were first introduced. I loved it. I thought Goyder expressed a vision of business that automatically inspires better ethics.

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It’s time for policy makers to enter the 21st century

Can you imagine a world where marketers promoted products without knowledge of psychology and persuasion? Well, the equivalent is happening in policy making and international development- in fact it is the standard.

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