Making Organizations Moral

Sophia Nguyen in Harvard Magazine:

EthicsIn the early 2000s, a riptide of business scandals toppled Enron, Arthur Andersen, and WorldCom. In the aftermath, says Straus professor of business administration Max Bazerman, “society turned to professional schools” to ask why their graduates were misbehaving. Behavioral ethics—combining aspects of moral philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, and economics—was born: “a creation of the new millennium.” As a teacher in this field, Bazerman explains, “My job is not about what ethics you follow, but how to bring you up to your own ethical standards.”

…In his book, Bazerman highlights promising directions in behavioral decision research that have the potential to promote more effective and more ethical noticing. One involves “choice architecture,” a term coined by Richard H. Thaler and Walmsley University Professor Cass R. Sunstein in their 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Choice architecture taps knowledge of psychology to identify better ways to present options—and Bazerman asserts that organizations can use it to create systems that increase the likelihood of their staff noticing key data. In a study he conducted with Kennedy School colleagues Alexandra van Geen and professor of public policy Iris Bohnet, supervisors were asked to assess a pool of job candidates. When judging applicants one at a time, they tended to favor men on quantitative tasks and women on verbal tasks. But when judging male and female candidates side-by-side, they relied on performance-related data; gender biases no longer factored into the decision. Changing the structure of the hiring process encouraged people to pay attention to the important information.

More here.