How Could Volkswagen Do Anything So Stupid?

Volkswagen is a company known for technological prowess and market innovation. This raises the question of how the company could engage in a plot as plain stupid as trying to trick emissions tests. I share my thoughts on this apparent puzzle in a recent piece that appeared in the business section of the Huffington Post. You can read it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-pastin/volkswagens-dumb-culture_b_8270264.html.

Lies about Ethics

The Profit Motive Undermines Ethics.

Many people believe that capitalism itself is unethical because the profit motive causes people to act unethically. But the truth is that any motive carried to an extreme can undermine ethics as much or more than the profit motive. Can anyone doubt that the power motive distorts the judgment of politicians and public officials? Or that the ego motive corrupts the judgment of celebrities, who are often quick to blame the profit motive. The problem is not with the profit motive per se but with any motive carried to an extreme.

Lies about Ethics

No topic is more subject to lies than ethics. In fact, our thinking about ethics typically begins with a lie. Each of us tells our self that we are ethical while we are uncertain about the ethics of most everyone else. We are always the exception. Ethics is the subject of a lot of lies because it is very personal to us and is part of our self-esteem. If you do a lot of thinking about ethics, you may end up challenging the very foundation of who you are. But lies about ethics are not harmless. They keep us mired in endless ethical disagreement about some of the most important issues of the day such as immigration, executive compensation, and climate change. Over the next several posts, starting here, I will talk about some of the big lies about ethics.

You Can’t Teach People Ethics.

This is patently false since most parents teach their children ethical basics, albeit with varying degrees of success. Parents teach children ethics by using rewards, punishments, persuasion and example. And this mostly works. The goal of parental teaching is to equip us to make ethical judgments once we no longer have our parents to guide us. Since we know ethics can be taught, we have to ask whether we should be using the same tools to continue ethics education into adulthood. However, these tools are less effective with adults just because adults believe that they already know the truth about ethics.

Ethics Crises

I have an article about how to address an ethics crisis, which includes most business crises, at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/mark-pastin/business-ethics-crisis-solutions_b_8096754.html.

Comments are always welcomed and answered as possible.

Pick an Ethical Employer

When you are looking for a job, how do you know if a prospective employer meets your ethical standards? This issue is addressed in the article http://tinyurl.com/qd8ggcm from the Huffington Post.

Ethics, Compliance and HR

As many of you know first hand, there has been a running battle over the years between ethics/compliance and human resources. This battle often focuses on the hotline and the idea that most hotline calls are about HR issues. But there are also battles over training, investigations, background checks – you  name it. If anyone is willing to share stories about this battle, it would be most welcome. You can comment here or contact me directly at councile@aol.com. Don’t worry I am not looking for anything to be attributed by name or organization – just some of the experiences of ethics and compliance professionals. What I write about this will eventually end up on this web site.

5th and Final Surprising Truth about Ethics

You can teach a person ethics.

This should be obvious since most parents teach most children ethics to some extent – although not as much as we might like. The reason we can teach children ethics is that children respond to incentives, whether it is a new toy for telling the truth or a pronounced glare for lying. Companies spend tens of millions of dollars trying to talk their employees into acting ethically. But they keep the same reward system that they have always used in which ethics plays no part. And so nothing changes.