Bernie Madoff Explains Himself

A few years ago, professor Eugene Soltes phoned convicted felon Bernie Madoff and asked him an important question: How would you explain your actions and misconduct to students? The recorded answer offers sobering lessons for anyone with business ambitions.

Doing Business Where Governance Is Weak

Eight principles for succeeding in markets prone to ethical and legal risks.

Quality in Human Treatment: An Innovative Five-Level Framework

ESE’s Domènec Melé presents a framework for “human quality treatment” (HQT) based on a recognition and respect for our shared human characteristics as well as our uniqueness. He ranks the quality of treatment in an organization according to five levels: Maltreatment, Indifference, Justice, Care, and Development.

Bad Behavior

Even ordinary people are prone to shocking ethical lapses. As the empirical study of ethics has surged in the past two decades, clear evidence has emerged that ethical thinking and behavior are prone to many of the same mental processes and pitfalls as the rest of human thinking and behavior. Just as we humans are prone to systematic and predictable cognitive errors, we appear to … [ Read more ]

The Ethics of Ethics Programs

In response to society’s demand for a stronger emphasis on business ethics, in light of recent publicity concerning unethical business practices, and in trying to be in compliance with new federal and state regulatory laws, many businesses have created or strengthened ethics programs. These programs are most effective when they flow out of a culture that values practicing business legally and ethically. However, there are … [ Read more ]

Clayton Christensen’s “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

World-renowned innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen explores the personal benefits of business research in the forthcoming book How Will You Measure Your Life? Co-authored with James Allworth and Karen Dillon, the book explains how well-tested academic theories can help us to find meaning and happiness not just at work, but in life. This excerpt describes how marginal thinking can lead to personal, professional, and moral … [ Read more ]

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Whether we are dealing with business, global diplomacy, or family matters, we are all perplexed by the complexity of ethics in negotiation. This article introduces a simple, straightforward exercise that can lead to very meaningful discussions regarding ethics, negotiation tactics, and the ramifications and effectiveness of the implementation of those tactics and ethical decisions.

Don’t Mention It: How ‘Undiscussables’ Can Undermine an Organization

Recent high-profile scandals at Penn State, MF Global Holdings, Olympus and elsewhere raise questions about why organizations often fail to address significant internal problems that at best impede performance, and at worst could have devastating effects. In hindsight, especially to observers, it is clear what should have been done. But for employees, exposing such problems is more complicated than telling right from wrong, say experts … [ Read more ]

The Best Ways to Discuss Ethics

Companies can take a wide variety of approaches to how to discuss ethics but what actually works in guiding employees’ ethical behavior. While working with different organizations over the last six year, Francesca Gino has observed approaches across the entire spectrum. Her research suggests that subtle changes can produce big differences in the ethical conduct of organizational members. Three findings seem particularly relevant, and they … [ Read more ]

The Importance of ‘Don’t’ in Inducing Ethical Employee Behavior

In a new study, HBS professors Francesca Gino and Joshua D. Margolis look at two ways that companies can encourage ethical behavior: the promotion of good deeds or the prevention of bad deeds. It turns out that employees tend to act more ethically when focused on what not to do. That can be problematic in firms where success is commonly framed in terms of advancement … [ Read more ]

Opinion: The story BCG offered me $16,000 not to tell

A story from Keith Yost, an MIT grad, about his relatively short experience working at BCG in Dubai as a management consultant. [Hat tip to Brad Feld]

Why Your Gut Is More Ethical Than Your Brain

If you’ve ever been part of a discussion on ethics, in school or elsewhere, chances are you didn’t spend much time talking about your feelings. It’s believed that to live ethically, we must engage our reason, which reins in the whims and follies of emotion. Ethics, then, is heavy on Spock and light on Sally Struthers. But what if unethical behavior is actually spurred, rather … [ Read more ]

Do Economists Breed Greed and Guile?

One of the root problems with business schools is that too many are infected with assumptions that reinforce and bring out the worst in human-beings. In particular, the logic and discipline of economics usually rules the roost at business schools.

Editor’s Note: The comments add as much or more value as the article itself.

Can Ethics Classes Cure Cheating?

Aine Donovan discusses the responsibility of schools to teach ethics.

Editor’s Note: the main article isn’t that enlightening, but some of the numerous comments posted are.

The Root Causes of Unethical Behavior: Psychological Traps That Everyone Falls Prey to

Business literature is replete with stories of unethical behavior in executive suites and board rooms, yet everyone is potentially capable of falling into the same traps. With a little insight into the psychological traps that increase the probability that individuals will behave unethically, perhaps such behavior can be curbed. To date, the authors have delineated a total of 45 traps, including “Obedience to Authority,” “Need … [ Read more ]

Making It Easy to Do the Right Thing

In recovering from a crisis, ethical business practice and high performance aren’t opposed.

What’s Good about Quiet Rule-Breaking

If your company quietly allows employees to break some rules with the tacit approval of management, that’s a moral gray zone. And your company is not alone. When rules are broken but privileges are not abused, such unspoken pacts between workers and management can allow both to achieve their respective goals of expressing professional identity and sustaining efforts in positive ways, says HBS professor Michel … [ Read more ]

Dishonest Deed, Clear Conscience: Self-Preservation through Moral Disengagement and Motivated Forgetting

People routinely engage in dishonest acts without feeling guilty about their behavior. When and why does this occur? Across three studies, people justified their dishonest deeds through moral disengagement and exhibited motivated forgetting of information that might otherwise limit their dishonesty. Using hypothetical scenarios (Study 1) and real tasks involving the opportunity to cheat (Studies 2 and 3), we find that dishonest behavior increased moral … [ Read more ]