Want a good culture? Ease up on the scary stories.

In a recent piece, Andre Pinto reminds us that “exposure to other people’s dishonesty might lead us to be dishonest as well.”

Pinto points out that our moral compass is not fixed and can be swayed by how things are done around us. It can be swayed either way, so that other people’s honesty can also lead us to be more honest. The same goes with trust, respect or integrity.

This highlights the danger of sharing a disproportionate number of real cases of wrongdoing within a company, a practice that many ethics and compliance programs have adopted. By sharing bad examples on a weekly or monthly or even quarterly basis, we risk normalizing the behavior and increasing its frequency.

I have written before about the benefits of recognition. My take has usually been that when we “recognize” one person for their good behavior, what we actually do is help everyone else recognize the behavior we want to see. Well, social science tells us that if they see it often enough, they might start adopting it. Thus, we ought to favor positive examples over negative ones.

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