The Cheating Culture

By Marc Resnick
There are four factors that affect how likely someone is to obey or break a rule, according to a book by David Callahan called “The Cheating Culture.”  It came out in 2004, but these things are even more true today.
  1. Risk/reward:  If the perceived reward is greater than the perceived risk of getting caught, you are more likely to break the rule.
  2. Social norms: We might be sensitive to what other people think of the behavior.  If we care, we are less likely to break a rule.  Peer pressure really works.
  3. Personal Morality:  You are more likely to break a rule that doesn’t break any of your personal moral beliefs.  Less likely if it does.  What you learned in church or from mom and dad could stick with you.
  4. Legitimacy: If the authority that enforces the rule is perceive as inconsistent or corrupt, we are more likely to break a rule.   We care about fairness.
There are several reasons why he says it is getting worse.  These are also more true today than in 2004.
  • There is less enforcement of white collar crimes.  There are fewer SEC agents, IRS auditors, etc.
  • There is less social aversion because there is a general impression that “everyone does it” so it is OK.
  • It is easy for us to create our own morality.  Who really believed “music should be free” before Napster? Somehow that meme appeared when we wanted it to be true.
  • Many of us see the system as being “rigged” so there is less legitimacy to the law.  The CEOs get away with crimes, banks get bailed out, and it’s only you and me that get prosecuted.  It’s not fair, so getting away with crime is understandable.  Even heroic.

How is this relevant to IE?  I am sure you can imagine tons of implications here for workforce management.  If you want employees to treat the company honestly (no embezzling, no cheating on their expense reports, no fudging their time cards, no taking tools home with them), you have to think about all four of these.

1.  Encourage peer pressure to be in favor of honesty, safety, and performance.  Management can do this not just be having a vision statement and core principles, but by walking the walk as well.

2.  Make sure employees know why the rules are important.  This could integrate them into the employee’s own personal moraility.  Encourage them to believe in the rules, not just follow them.

3.  Enforce the rules consistently.  Make sure that the supervisor and manager isn’t breaking rules and then enforcing them on the line workers.  It doesn’t matter if they are different rules.  You have to enforce them all consistently.

4.  Have some kind of risk/reward.  I am not suggesting the carrot and stick approach, but integrate some tangible and intangible incentives for following rules.  This is the subject of one of my full-day workshops, so I can’t really cover it all here.  But DO it.

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1 Comment so far

  1. This is brief and to the point. Very well presented and easy to follow. Good practical advice for a well-run office. And very good advice for families!

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