How to engrain ethics in your corporate culture? One decision at the time!

Ethics deal with what makes something morally right or wrong.

Almost any sizeable company nowadays has a code of ethics. The main catalysts for these were the corporate scandals in the early 2000s (Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and others). Also, in the last couple of years having a sense of purpose has become pretty much en vogue.

As a result, every year millions of employees now dutifully complete e-learning modules and sign declarations (‘To the best of my knowledge…’).

If you think about this on a philosophical level, it is actually quite sad. Apparently, companies need to invest millions of dollars each year because a shared understanding of what is morally right or wrong to do on behalf of the company, is not a given.

Obviously, from a pragmatic point of view, companies have no choice but to invest in this type of training. First of all, it helps individuals to avoid taking decisions that can create reputational and compliance-related problems for the company. The second reason is the need to demonstrate institutional compliance to governments, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders.

Limitations of codes of ethics

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What I learned about business ethics by reading ‘An Ugly Truth’  

I am very interested in decision-making in organizations as well as in social media. This means a book like ‘An Ugly Truth – Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination’, by Frenkel and Kang is a double whammy for me.

The book describes the different scandals Facebook has been involved in in the past couple of years (e.g the Russian interference in US presidential elections, Cambridge Analytica, and the mass murder of Rohingya people in Myanmar). These scandals are well known and well documented in other books. The added value of this book is that it describes the decision-making process of the top leadership of Facebook with regard to these scandals.

What is even more interesting is the link the book makes between the motivation and ethics of the key decision-makers on the one hand and their decisions on the other.

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The Fear Factor

Why a sense of belonging is crucial for a healthy corporate culture

By Dirk Verburg

According to Professor of Psychology Kip Williams, the human race ows its success to the fact that we learned to collaborate in groups. We learned that through organizing ourselves in tribes, we hugely increased our chances to survive in a hostile environment. The tribe enabled us to protect ourselves from wild animals, other tribes and food shortages.

The prospect of people who were being ‘ostracized’ (forced to leave the tribe) looked bleak. In pre-historic times, ostracism did not only result in social, but also in a certain physical death. People, who were kicked out of their ‘tribe’ and left to their own devices, were doomed to die, because they could not defend themselves effectively against predators, other tribes and could no longer collect sufficient food.

Because of the latent fears of ostracism that human beings have, managing human behavior by using this threat requires surprisingly little effort. Setting an example by ostracizing just a handful of individuals in a visible manner is enough to instill a sense of fear in a complete community. Continue reading