Management and Consulting Services

Reminders of Moral/Ethical/Common-Sensible/Right-vs-Wrong Behavior

8/15/2012

6730294Dan Ariely is a Behavioral Economist, officially the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University. You may have read a recently published piece from him in the Wall Street Journal on, “Why We Lie”.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece…left in context to exemplify my point:

“…What, then—if anything—pushes people toward greater honesty?

There’s a joke about a man who loses his bike outside his synagogue and goes to his rabbi for advice. “Next week come to services, sit in the front row,” the rabbi tells the man, “and when we recite the Ten Commandments, turn around and look at the people behind you. When we get to ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ see who can’t look you in the eyes. That’s your guy.” After the next service, the rabbi is curious to learn whether his advice panned out. “So, did it work?” he asks the man. “Like a charm,” the man answers. “The moment we got to ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ I remembered where I left my bike.”

What this little joke suggests is that simply being reminded of moral codes has a significant effect on how we view our own behavior…”

Later on in the piece Ariely observed further:

“While ethics lectures and training seem to have little to no effect on people, reminders of morality—right at the point where people are making a decision—appear to have an outsize effect on behavior.”

According to Ariely’s experiments, his observations arise from hard data which would then support a contention that having regular, recurring reminders of what “to do” are far more effective than being told what NOT to do. I suspect those reminders can come in multiple forms, from examples like: leaders and role models; reiterations of policy, procedures, and expectations; recurring feedback; “rules of the road”; even the Golden Rule…viewed often.

If we can increase the reminders of the behavior that is expected, we can favorably impact the behavior that will occur. And if, as management, we can showcase that expected behavior ourselves, we in essence do that same thing…become a reminder ourselves, by our example. Conversely, Ariely’s experiments and observations also conclude that if we have (or allow) others around us who clearly cheat, that will definitely increase the likelihood of more cheating.

So, we practice and model the behavior that is expected, and we’ll likely get more of the same. If we exhibit, or have constant reminders of the expected behavior, then we will more often behave in that manner. Pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you agree?

And if we don’t…we won’t.