Never mind ‘Don’t be evil’; How about ‘Do good’

Since 2000 ‘Don’t be evil’ was the overriding principal of Google’s corporate code of conduct. It was changed to ‘Do the right thing’ by AI specialist firm Alphabet; Google’s new parent company, during 2015.

However, adoption of ‘Do the right thing’ was slow and Google has been embroiled in several high profile corporate conduct scandals.

siteAssets positive reward theory at work

siteAssets positive reward theory at work

Non-payment or avoidance of corporation tax across Europe recently lead Google to pay a £259m tax settlement bill. Italian authorities received the payment and halted a criminal investigation. Philip Hammond announced a crack-down on tax avoidance by digital giants in his autumn statement of 2017, specifically naming Google and Facebook.

Google eventually revealed gender pay gap figures after considerable pressure from government and the media. Female Google employees in the UK earn on average 17% less than men as regards salaried pay, and 43% less than men in bonus payments. Google has said that like-for-like roles show no gender pay bias, which unfortunately leads on to the next point.

Perhaps most shamefully, because it was in direct conflict with ‘Do the right thing’, Google employee James Damore posted a 10-page memo on an internal message board stating that: women were less suited to engineering than men because biologically they are pre-disposed to neurosis. The comments led to his high-profile sacking in 2017, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the decision saying that it “was about ensuring women at Google felt like the company was committed to creating a welcoming environment.”

Google introduced new corporate conduct guidelines in May 2018. Pichai warned employees in July that if they behaved badly online they could be disciplined, demoted, and even fired.

The new corporate conduct code states that when communicating Google Values should be kept in mind, namely respect of the user, the opportunity and of each other. The codes go on to encourage staff to keep Google a safe, productive and inclusive environment for everyone. Further; any discussions that make Googlers feel like they do not belong, have no place at Google. Lastly employees are warned about the reach of their words – specifically “Your actions on our corporate systems leave a footprint and may be discoverable in court or shared externally without your permission.”

But, there is a problem with conduct codes in general.

As any manager, parent, coach, teacher or mentor will know punitive only does not work.

We live in a reward society.

You work hard for an exam – you get a higher grade, you train for a race, you improve your time.

This might explain why ‘Don’t be evil’ was not enough. From a mentor’s perspective ‘Do the right thing’ still falls short on several counts…

  1. It is not explicit.
  2. It is punitive.
  3. It is without example, it does not describe the positive behaviours that are required.
  4. It does not state how ‘good behaviour’ will be rewarded.

The management and leadership style it is autocratic or telling.

Where an organisation has a culture and behavioural challenge, other leadership styles such as selling (democratic) and coaching, supporting and paternalistic would produce fast and lasting behavioural shifts.

When it comes to positive reward theory and paternalistic leadership styles; the work of child psychiatry and psychology professor Alan Kazdin provides much insight.

The principal of positive reward theory is that ‘Do the right thing’ would evolve into ‘Do good’ supported by examples of good behaviour in the workplace. And good behaviours would be rewarded, more time doing ‘fun projects’ or perhaps attending a cookery class, funded by the employer. Visibility of positive reward theory can galvanise teams and cascade learning quickly.

For many the biggest hurdle for positive reward theory is flipping the negative behaviour to show the positive behaviour that is required in the workplace.

Here are some examples:

  • Thou shalt not kill – Save lives
  • Don’t shout – Speak quietly even when sad, angry or disappointed
  • Do not troll – Show support for good ideas, comments or campaigns
  • Be respectful – Show consideration to others, treating them how you like to be treated

Of course, behavioural change very often happens bottom-up or from within. Google employees recently pressured the company not to work on military projects. Goole CEO Sundar Pichai promised Googlers that the company would never help the military to build artificially intelligent weapons.

If you are this side of the pond (near Blighty) and need help changing behaviour at work contact our good friends careerbalance on: 020 3051 1054.

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