Corporations often approach ethics as an individual problem, designing oversight systems to identify the “bad apples” before they can turn the organization into a “rotten barrel.” But at places like Wells Fargo, FIFA, and Volkswagen, we can’t fully describe what happened by reading profiles of John Stumpf, Sepp Blatter, or Martin Winterkorn. Bad apple explanations also fail to explain the string of ethical crises at Uber, the long-term impunity of powerful men who sexually harass colleagues, or any of the other ethics scandals we’ve seen this year. Rather, we see a “tone at the top” underpinned by widespread willful blindness, toxic incentives, and mechanisms that deflect scrutiny. These conditions seem to persist and metastasize. They replicate despite changes in leadership and in management systems.
- 5 Signs Your Organization Might Be Headed for an Ethics Scandal, Harvard Business Review