‘We need a new form of moral capitalism,’ says corporate philosopher Roger Steare.
How to stay ethical during a downturn: this was the theme of a talk given by Roger Steare at Cass Business School in London on 26 November. Steare is an interesting person. The author of the book Ethicability, he describes himself as a ‘corporate philosopher’. And to have a ‘corporate philosopher’ at Cass Business School, where he is the Visiting Professor of Organizational Ethics, is significant – the school claims to be ‘the intellectual hub of the City of London’.
It’s not clear what effect organizational ethics has had on the bankers and investors who trade in the City of London at a time of economic downturn, some of whom may well have been culpable for the downturn. But they would do well to hear what he has to say. For a start he says, ‘Don’t panic!’ It can be a self-destructive emotion. And Steare says that he is ‘incredibly optimistic about the future’.
Roger StearePerhaps he has reason to be. In July and August this year, he and a colleague, Pavlos Stamboulides, a Chartered Psychologist from Athens, conducted an online ‘Ethicability Moral DNA Test’ sponsored by The Times newspaper, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Cass Business School. Nearly 21,000 people from 162 countries responded – a huge sampling. The survey aimed to explore human behaviour according to our various moral philosophies – are we ‘Rules Compliant’; driven by ‘Social Conscience’; or motivated by ‘Principled Conscience’?
- Rules Compliance as: ‘What’s right is doing what we are told; don’t think, just obey’.
- Social Conscience as: ‘What’s right is what’s best for others; friendship, empathy, kindness’.
- Principled Conscience as: ‘What’s right by the virtues of our internal moral compass; courage, justice, self-discipline, trust, love and compassion’. And this last one is what philosophers call virtue or integrity, he says.
But before these three there is ‘greed and fear which equals a dummy – a form of moral infancy’. So there is a clear progression up the scale of maturity in our moral philosophies.
The results of the survey showed that 28 per cent of us are Rules Compliant; 35 per cent of us are driven by Social Conscience; and 37 per cent of us are motivated by Principled Conscience. So there is hope for us all yet. Moreover, there is an age factor in all of this. Principled Conscience takes over when we move from being dependent on others, such as in our childhood and teenage years, and have to stand on our own two feet. So the graph shows that principled conscience kicks in the most, on average, at the age of 33.
But what is most revealing about Steare’s survey is where various occupations are ranked on the scale of Principled Conscience. Perhaps not surprisingly, religious workers and ‘homemakers’ are the most principled, those in the financial services sector are 16th out of 31 sectors – and are more rules compliant than driven by principled conscience. And, surprise, surprise, media workers are amongst the least driven by principled conscience, below automobiles and parts workers. At the bottom of the scale are the unemployed, driven away from principled conscience and much more towards rules compliance, Steare suggests, by the desperation of their circumstances. Finally, there is a sting in the tail for us men: women score much higher than men in all three categories of rules compliance, social conscience and principled conscience. So, buck up, men, he says.
In his presentation at Cass Business School, Steare concluded with a ‘message of hope’ – a video clip with a song which included the words, ‘Do just the right thing. Don’t ever hesitate to think about the consequences.’ Someone from the floor asked, ‘So how do we start?’ to which Steare replied, ‘By engaging in dialogue like this.’ And he added: ‘We need a new form of moral capitalism.’
Michael Smith is the author of ‘Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy’ and a coordinator in the UK of Caux Initiatives for Business.