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Thursday, April 30th, 2015
James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University and columnist for The Wall Street Journal
This is an excerpt from an interview he did with EthicalSystems.org in April, 2015. Interview
How does your work on cheating and dishonesty help companies that want to improve themselves as ethical systems?
I think that the first thing we find is that it is not about bad people, it is about bad incentive structures. When something bad happens, it is easy to point the finger and say "These are just bad people and if we didn't hire them it would be ok." But we find that companies have bad structures and if you put people in these bad structures, something bad will happen in the end. It is just a matter of time, not who you hire. Companies don't always see it this way and because of this, they set themselves up for failure. Companies need to:
- Understand the dangers of conflicts of interest. It is not about bad people or intentions but f you put people in these situations, you are likely to have bad results.
- Understand the Slippery Slope: I recently talked to a company that sends people to solve problems. They tell people to park illegally because there is no other way to do their job in New York without doing so. Then they are surprised that when they are told to violate one rule, they do not obey the other rules. It is not clear where the boundary is. Sometimes companies take shortcuts on one thing and don't realize how it spills over into other areas.
If you think about dishonesty as a timeline, think about the time before the dishonest act when we can consider education, the moment of temptation and the potential for punishment. Usually poeple focus on the punishment and think if we only create a large punishment everyone will behave well. This is not the case. People very rarely think about the long term punishment. We need to focus more on the education and have people not be tempted at the moment of temptation.