08 Oct 2018 20:49 IST

Why we choose to flout the rules

It’s important not to get so carried away by targets that we forget our moral compass

Why do people flout rules and regulations despite knowing that it is wrong? Especially when they think no one is looking. What value does doing the right thing have or is it just being blown out of proportion?

The answer to this issue lies in understanding the importance of following rules and regulations, and doing the right thing. Without order, organisations and cultures will be severely threatened and slip into chaos. Leaders will be ineffective if they are solely driven by the need to reach a target, without regard to consequences, because the fear of punishment or failure will drive people to do anything. This creates leaders whose approach is more punitive than motivating. More importantly, there will be an overall trust deficit as people will always be suspicious and doubt everyone around them.

Yet, this seems to be the direction we are headed towards. Whenever I open up this topic for discussion or debate, the response from the majority of people is that “others do it, so why not do the same?”. This shows the slowly eroding moral compass in individuals.

Slippery slope

This attitude is particularly dangerous in management professionals, when they start to think that the ends justify the means. This is evident from the reports of various scams and corruption that we read about every day. Such thinking corrodes an organisation’s work culture and discipline. If the overt and covert message being given by business leaders is that anything is justified for the end result, there is no end to that argument. And individuals may extend the same to their personal lives.

For example, if a manager tells his/her team that a particular result has to be achieved by hook or crook, it is the start of a dangerous slide. Going forward, if a team member gives false information to protect their personal interest or for some other personal benefit, the manager will have no credibility to question that person. If this trend continues, it will ultimately lead to the total breakdown of order.

Moral compass

Increasingly, business schools are realising the importance of firmly establishing the concept of a moral compass and some even offer courses on morality, ethics and good corporate governance. This is a good step and should ideally be followed by all business schools. However, it would be totally useless if the individual’s moral compass is skewed. That is something which only the individual can work on and follow without fail.

A simple step to ensure that all your actions follow the right moral compass is: Whenever you plan to do something and are conflicted whether it is right or not, imagine a scenario where this action would be front page news in the papers and on television. In such a scenario, would you face your parents, children and close friends with confidence or with shame? If you think that you would be ashamed, don’t do whatever you had planned. Keep in mind that right and wrong are not about being caught and punished. It is about being happy and proud of what you have done or not.

Although this simple exercise is not fool-proof, it will at least start to help align your moral compass in the right direction.

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