What really makes people be honest in business
Alexander Wagner is a researcher and a scientist who works with economists, ethicists, neuroscientists, lawyers and others, to understand what makes humans tick and how to best address the issue of fraud in corporations, seeking to improve the business world, one step at a time.
In an inspiring TED Talk, Wagner reveals that people are motivated by certain intrinsic values, known as protected values. He explains that:
“A protected value isn’t just any value. A protected value is a value where you’re willing to pay a price to uphold that value. You’re willing to pay a price to withstand the temptation to give in. And the consequence is you feel better if you earn money in a way that’s consistent with your values.”
Departing from these intrinsic values, Wagner claims that corporations can adopt one of two visions. On the one hand, they can appeal to benefits and costs and try to get people to behave according to them. On the other hand, they can select people who have the values and competencies that go in line with the organization.
Even though Wagner admits to the fact that he still doesn’t know where these protected values really come from, he reveals that their distribution looks similar for men and women, economists and psychologists, and even around different age categories among adults.
Concluding his presentation, Alexander Wagner assures his audience that it is perfectly alright to appeal to incentives and that these should not be put in a negative light in any way.
“I’m an economist; I certainly believe in the fact that incentives work. But do think about selecting the right people rather than having people and then putting incentives in place. Selecting the right people with the right values may go a long way to saving a lot of trouble and a lot of money in your organizations.”
Alexander Wagner is a Swiss Finance Institute professor at the University of Zurich’s Department of Banking and Finance.