ethics

Ethical Systems Year End Letter from Jon Haidt

Dear Friends, 

Ethical Systems reflects on a year marked by tragedy and triumph, major ethics news and new research. We began 2015 by receiving IRS recognition of our organization as a 501c3 non-profit, and filing our first 990 report. Finally, we can begin raising money to fund our operations. What started as an informal collaborative network of researchers has blossomed into an official organization uniting researchers and business leaders who want to change the business world by “making ethics easy.”

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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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Ethics and the City: Regional programs for success

Ethical systems design is rooted in a systems-approach. We at Ethical Systems generally look at these at 3 levels: 1) personal ethics; 2) organizational ethics; and 3) the national culture and legal/regulatory environment. It is the interplay between these levels that creates a self-sustaining ethical culture.

Within the context of the third level, there is an emerging trend, where ethics and culture are being used to promote regional economic development. Ethics is taking center stage in two cities- Boston and Omaha- and galvanizing people to come together to engage in discussion and identify solutions.

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Biases and Decision Making

From the things we say to the actions we take each day, our world- and that of business- is comprised of thousands of decisions, both big and small. How we come to make those decisions is the result of intuition and analysis and, in most cases, influenced by biases that we may or may not be aware of. 

We know about blind spots in decision making, mostly because of the work of ES collaborators Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel. A recent graph published in Business Insider: Australia, and included below, depicts additional biases that all would be wise to learn and attempt to obviate when analyzing ideas and programs.

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Professionalism and Ethics: A missed connection?

What does professionalism mean to you? Often, people who identify as a professional think of themselves not only as knowledgeable in their discipline, but also rational, objective and serving a higher purpose (e.g., the client’s needs). These are laudable goals, but new research shows that these characteristics could actually lead to people making self-interested, and ultimately unethical or damaging, decisions.  

In a paper on Professionalism and Moral Behavior, Maryam Kouchaki of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, tests the hypothesis that an emphasis on one's professional identity has a greater likelihood of an individual engaging in unethical behavior. This is an important inquiry in light of ethical failures in companies where lawyers and accountants often act as “gatekeepers” on ethics and compliance issues vis a vis corporate practices. Based on evidence from her lab studies and employee surveys, Kouchaki concludes that priming professionalism may actually lead to increased misbehavior.

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Did You Get the Memo? Confronting Corporate Wrongdoing

After the financial crisis of 2008 and the current, ongoing instances of large fines levied against banks and other financial companies, many people continually bemoan why penalties have not also included jail time and prosecution of executives who have behaved unethically. The message has finally reached the highest levels of government and change is on the horizon. 

In a speech at NYU Law last week, hosted by the school's Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates presented the memo covering a new Department of Justice initiative designed to fight corporate fraud and other misconduct by going after individuals who perpetrated the wrongdoing. In addition to punitive actions against an organization (what many see as a macro-level punishment that does little to deter misconduct on the micro, or personal, level), the DOJ will now turn its considerable resources to affecting change at the source, i.e. those that engage in personal malfeasance under the guise of doing their job.

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My First Week: Azish Filabi and Ethical Systems

I begin this week in my role as CEO of Ethical Systems. Joining this fantastic team and meeting colleagues in NYU Stern's Business and Society Program strengthens my belief that ethics and business can operate hand-in-hand to create lasting value in society.

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Navigating the Amazon: Workplace Culture and Ethics

fulfillment.jpgWhile talk in August can normally drift to Labor Day vacation plans and how to brew the perfect pitcher of iced tea, a different sort of discussion began to surface in offices (and backyards) across America: that of workplace culture and the different extremes that workers at Amazon report as the norm.

The New York Times article that started it all, "Wrestling Big Ideas in a Grueling Workplace," provided an eye-opening look into the management practices, feedback loops and performance measurement metrics at Amazon, eliciting both accolades and acrimony from current and former employees. After much debate, the dust settled at a realization that the intensity is both a blessing and a curse and tailored for only certain kinds of personalities. An overarching theme was that burnout is common and, to a certain extent, expected. 

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Featured Collaborator for September: Nick Epley

Interview with Nick Epley, author of "Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want" and professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business

 

I study mind reading. Not the nonsensical, spooky or supernatural versions of it, but rather the very natural and intuitive version of it that we do whenever we make an inference about another person’s mind. We do this arguably every social interaction we have when we wonder what someone else is thinking, believing, feeling, or wanting. This is hard to do accurately because another person’s mind is inherently invisible. 

You can’t see another person’s thought, hold a want, or poke a feeling. As a result, our inferences about the minds of others are far less than perfect, and we are consistently less accurate than we think we are. I’m most interested in understanding these gaps between our inferences about each other and reality. The mistakes we make are a common source of unnecessary conflict in everyday life.

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A Dream Remit For the New DOJ Compliance Counsel

Designing ethical systems is about having the right policies and programs in place- as well as the right people. Recently, the Department of Justice took a needed step forward by retaining a new full-time expert in compliance programs for their prosecution team. ES collaborator Jeffrey Kaplan, of Kaplan & Walker, LLP explains in a new Conflicts of Interest blog entry, cross posted below, how the new hire will allow the government to advance not only their understanding of how to strengthen and evaluate organizational compliance programs, but how the DOJ can leverage this position to put forth an agenda that highlights positive actions in the field.

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