Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
is weakened in its entirety. This means that in order to prevent an escalation of violations,
minor misdemeanors and their visible effects should be dealt with quickly, and that if you
want to improve the ethics and integrity of an organization, this must be done in an integrated
and coherent way. If an organization wishes to combat internal fraud, then it must also
prevent antisocial behavior such as intimidation, aggression, and hostility. If an organization
wishes to deal carefully and responsibly with clients, then it must deal carefully with other
stakeholders. Unethical behavior is very dificult to isolate: an organization cannot be ethical
in one relationship or situation, and unethical in another. Unethical behavior, as shown in the
above experiments, is a wildire that spreads easily.
Keizer’s theory also helps to explain why, if unethical behavior has escalated and spread widely,
this cannot be reversed simply by cleaning up afterwards. The culture is then already so badly
infected that people no longer attach any signiicance to the normative goal. Much energy
must then be put into establishing and communicating the importance of this. Companies
which have slipped off the rails and been discredited can therefore make a good start towards
recovery by re-evaluating their business mission from a normative perspective, reformulating
business goals, rewriting the code of conduct, making intensive efforts to communicate this,
and providing extensive training to employees.This is the only way to win back territory for the
normative goal, and it will improve behavior on countless fronts in its wake.
If you want to prevent an organization being derailed and a great deal of energy being required
to get things back on track, then the task is to repair “broken windows” in the organization as
quickly as possible.
15. Broken panes bring bad luck: the broken window theory