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Bad Corporate Behavior – It's Viral

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Wonder if the behavior of your executives has any affect on the behavior of your rank and file?  Wonder no more.  Dan Ariely – professor at Duke and author of bestsellers Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality (must reads, btw) provides some interesting study results that probably won’t make any difference in a company – but should.  I say it won’t make a difference because those that get away with bad behavior fool themselves into thinking it is isolated and doesn’t really affect anyone else. 

It’s not hurting anyone right?

Cheating and Social Proof

If you’re read this blog for any period of time you know how much I think social proof and concensus affects behavior in an organization.  To add more fuel to that fire Ariely offers a post today on the impact of seeing others cheat has on a groups behavior (hint – it’s not a good thing…)  Here’s a quote from the post.

“In the research my colleagues and I have carried out on dishonesty, we’ve found repeatedly that people become more likely to lie and cheat after witnessing the dishonest behavior of others.”

The complete outline of the research is here but the net-net is that when we see others get away with something we are more likely to take the same path.  There is a bit of silver lining though.  If we believe we are members of a different social group than those cheating, it has less effect and if we are “rival” groups it actually influences us to be less dishonest than in general.

What This Means for Your Culture

If you have executives that get away with minor transgressions (think miss-classifying dinners on expense reports, lying to clients, general boorish behavior) you will get more of that same behavior in the rank and file.  

Truth be told – it isn’t just executives.  If the general population behaves this way it is evidence the behavior is acceptable and normal.  Ignoring bad behavior is the same as advertising it.  

Use The Concept To Your Advantage

This also works in the positive.  Highlight behaviors you want and you’ll get more of them.  

Seems our parents knew what to do after all – punish bad behavior and reward good behavior.

Only wish our companies did the same.

 

Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

  • Talitha Akin

    Much like the classic tyre change experiment. When people see a stranger helping a stranded motorist to change a tyre on the side of the road they are more likely o help the next strandard motorist. It’s about modeling behaviour. Walk the talk.

    PS agree that Dan Ariely’s books are a must read.

    • http://www.wphebert.com Paul Hebert

      Thanks Talitha – appreciate you mentioning the tyre experiment. For those that want to read more…  link:  
      http://www.intropsych.com/ch15_social/helpful_behavior.html

      From that link:

      Like aggression, cooperative or helpful behavior can be stimulated by modeling and imitation. Classic research was done by Bryan and Test (1967). They arranged to have a female confederate of the experimenter stand next to a 1964 Ford Mustang with a flat left-rear tire, on a busy Los Angeles freeway. In the “no modeling” condition, the lady simply stood by the car and looked at the flat tire. In the “modeling” condition, a 1965 Oldsmobile was planted a quarter mile before the Mustang. A man pretended to change the tire on the Oldsmobile while a woman watched him.

      The point of the research was to see if the sight of the man helping the woman with the Oldsmobile would influence people. Would they be more likely to stop and help the woman with the Mustang that had a flat tire? That is exactly what happened. With the model car absent, 35 vehicles stopped. When the model was present, 58 stopped.

      The experimental manipulation was the presence or absence of a confederate who approached the kettle once a minute and tossed a coin into it. Because people were walking by quickly, they would see the man only once. However, there was a big effect from this modeling behavior. When people saw the man make a contribution to the kettle, they were more likely to make a donation themselves. An average of 60 donations came in from other people in a 25-minute period when the man was present. When the man was absent, there was an average of 43 donations. The race of the bell-ringer proved not to make a difference in this experiment.Next Bryan and Test studied contributions to a Salvation Army kettle. Typically the kettle is positioned in front of a store with a volunteer who rings a bell to attract attention. In this experiment, two female confederates of the experimenter—one black, one white—took turns ringing the bell by the kettle for 25 minutes at a time. They did not ask people for contributions; they merely rang the bell and thanked people who placed money into the kettle.

      The experimental manipulation was the presence or absence of a confederate who approached the kettle once a minute and tossed a coin into it. Because people were walking by quickly, they would see the man only once. However, there was a big effect from this modeling behavior. When people saw the man make a contribution to the kettle, they were more likely to make a donation themselves. An average of 60 donations came in from other people in a 25-minute period when the man was present. When the man was absent, there was an average of 43 donations. The race of the bell-ringer proved not to make a difference in this experiment.

      The Bryan and Test research was simple but elegant. It suggested the same principle was operating with helpful behavior as with aggressive behavior. People notice the behavior of a model. If they see helpful behavior by another person, they are more likely to show helpful behavior themselves. Although the principle is simple, the implications are profound. Random acts of kindness might rub off on other people. Kindly behavior is imitated. If this occurs on a large scale, everybody can benefit.

  • the unkempt woman

    So basically, we are lemmings, interesting. If that is true and we are lemmings, then can I at least be the first lemming who started the trend, and where exactly is that cliff?