In social psychology we have this thing called the ‘fundamental attribution error.’ It refers
to the fact that when people see somebody do something unusual, their first reaction
is to assume that the act expressed the person’s internal values or personality (“he’s such
a crook!”), and underestimate the power of external factors and pressures. So, when we
hear about a company brought down by an ethics scandal, we immediately search for
the culprits, the bad actors, the bad apples. We can almost always find them, fire them,
maybe indict them, and move on… to the next scandal.
Sometimes a scandal is caused by one psychopath or sleazebag in the C-suite. But
usually not. If you really want to understand the causes of cheating, risky and unethical
behavior within complex organizations, you have to get past this attributional error
and examine the barrel, not just the apples in the barrel. You have to learn some social
psychology, which is like putting on a pair of magic glasses that let you see social
forces and cognitive biases in action.
Once you see how profoundly we are all shaped by local organizational culture, and how
clueless we often are about the real causes behind our actions, you can begin to work
with human psychology, adapt your processes to it, and obtain far better results.
Mind Gym shines a spotlight on this challenge in this whitepaper. A great deal of their
evidence shows that having ethics pays, yet most organizations focus on compliance,
rather than on ethics. Mind Gym offers you a set of tools and a framework to begin
diagnosing your own organization. And they offer concrete advice for improvement.
It is crucial that your organization is aligned on ethics at all levels – you may not see
results from just changing one or two processes. If you want to run a great organization
that employees are proud to work for, and that customers buy from with high trust, then
you should consider making an all-out commitment to ethics. You should consider
doing ethical systems design.
The White Paper can be downloaded here.