Author: Jill Young Miller

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About Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. Also, I am the reigning Olin Cornhole Champion.


An ocean liner hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Ten people scramble into one lifeboat, and wind and waves drive the lifeboat far from other boats. The passengers have no idea where they are or when help might come.

What’s worse, the lifeboat can only hold six passengers. If four don’t go overboard into the icy water and certain death, all 10 will drown. You have only minutes to decide. Who stays? Who goes?

The lifeboat game is part of a lesson in decision-making frameworks in the new book “The Right Way to Win: Making Business Ethics Work in the Real World,” by Robert Zafft, an adjunct lecturer at Olin. Published by Rowman & Littlefield in mid-September, the book gives readers tools and techniques to encourage ethical behavior, which Zafft argues drives long-term business success.

The ideas and examples in the book come from a business-ethics course Zafft teaches at Olin. He calls the book “a stand-alone guide to making business ethics work in the real world.” It’s meant for people in the workforce and also for students in business or other programs who want to understand the basics of business ethics.

“My students want the fundamentals of business ethics explained in ways that are simple, straightforward, practical and fun,” Zafft said. “That’s how I teach my course, and that’s how I’ve written my book. The lifeboat game introduces people to basic ethical frameworks in a way they’ll enjoy and remember.” 

Zafft is a Harvard-trained lawyer who has worked as a McKinsey & Company consultant and international expert. His own introduction to business ethics came in Moscow during Russia’s “wild 1990s, when bankers were getting blown up on Main Street at rush hour,” he said.

An emphasis on reputation

“Experience has taught me that people who treat business ethics as a back-office issue will fail,” Zafft said. His book stands out because of its emphasis on reputation, he said, “as well as concrete managerial tools and techniques for fixing and enforcing individual accountability.”

The 12-chapter book is divided into three parts. Part I describes the meaning of “ethical behavior,” and one of its chapters includes the lifeboat game. “Various ethical frameworks exist, and these can produce varying – and sometimes directly contradictory – outcomes,” Zafft writes. “Sometimes, both sides can be right.”

Part II examines what it means for a company or other organization to be ethical. It also looks at how critical reputation is to business leaders ranging from history’s “real” Godfather, Carlo Gambino, to Warren Buffett.

Part III focuses on the managerial tools and techniques for encouraging and enforcing ethical behavior throughout an organization. “These include the organizational designs and process controls which managers must put in place to define and enforce individual accountability,” Zafft writes. It also “explores the primacy of culture, which, in Warren Buffett’s view, ‘[D]etermines how an organization behaves … more than rule books.’”

The best way to rob a bank

Entertaining writing fills the book. The chapter “Organizational Design: The Who and What of Accountability” begins this way:

“‘The best way to rob a bank is to own it’ goes the old saw. In fact, robbers don’t even need to own the bank, just to work there. So it was with Wells Fargo. So it was with Enron, which was not a bank but traded like one. The individual world record for bank robbery may belong to Nick Leeson, a 20-something trading-desk manager for Barings plc. In 1995, Leeson’s unauthorized trades cost his employer over $1.3 billion, leaving it insolvent.”

Other chapters offer engaging perspectives on classic business-ethics cases including those involving Ford Pinto, Arthur Andersen and Bernie Madoff.

Mark Arian, CEO of Korn Ferry Consulting, called the book a “must read for any executive or professional focusing on making business ethics work in the real world and driving and sustaining ethical decisions throughout an organization.”

“The book focuses extensively on practical managerial techniques and individual accountability,” Arian said, “showing the reader how to do well by doing good.”

For more information, visit www.TheRightWayToWin.com.




New research shows consumers strongly prefer “natural,” not synthetic, products to prevent ailments.

Which presents a dilemma. Medical researchers are racing to create a vaccine for COVID-19. When they do, how receptive will consumers be?

Vaccines are far from “natural.”

“Vaccines are technically a treatment to prevent an ailment,” said Sydney Scott, Olin assistant professor of marketing. “Moreover, vaccines are unnatural insofar as humans create and alter them. Some people refuse vaccines as a preventative measure, preferring not to ‘interfere with nature.’”

Sydney Scott

As the world anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, however, perhaps consumers will view it as a curative for a societal problem, Scott said.

“Our research suggests that if consumers view a vaccine more like a curative to the epidemic, rather than as a preventative for the self, they will be more receptive toward it.”

Scott, an expert in consumer behavior and decision-making, is the lead author of “Consumers Prefer ‘Natural’ More for Preventatives Than for Curatives,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Consumers’ beliefs

Consumers believe that natural products are safer and less potent than synthetic alternatives, the research found. And they care more about safety and less about potency when they’re trying to prevent problems.

“This research sheds light on when the marketing of ‘natural’ is most appealing to consumers,” Scott said.

Consumers often prefer natural versions of foods, medicines, personal care products and home products, according to the paper. “Natural” isn’t a legally defined and regulated term, but consumers’ definition is that a product has no additives and that humans haven’t tampered with it.

“This preference for natural is an increasingly important driver of consumers’ decisions,” Scott said.

Insulin, antibiotics, cortisone creams

In some cases, however, consumers abandon their preference for natural.

For example, people widely accept insulin, antibiotics, cortisone creams and synthetic stain removers, although they are evidently unnatural, according to the paper. “Thus, anecdotally, the preference for natural products looms larger in some situations than in others.”

The researchers focused on the relation between consumers’ judgments about naturalness and their beliefs about two important attributes—safety and potency. They examined when consumers prefer natural most strongly and why the variance in preference for natural occurs.

“Consumers widely desire natural products, but not always to the same degree,” Scott said. “We demonstrate that the preference for natural is particularly strong when consumers are preventing problems or illnesses compared to when they are curing the same problems or illnesses.”

Scott and coauthors Paul Rozin and Deborah Small, both of the University of Pennsylvania, present seven studies. One showed that consumers more strongly prefer the exact same natural product when preventing an ailment than when curing it. Another showed consumers search for and chose natural products to prevent versus treat cold symptoms.

Another, which examined consumers’ reports about their health choices over a year, found consumers prioritize naturalness in their preventative treatments more than in their curative treatments. And another showed that when consumers believed natural products were riskier and more potent than synthetic products, they preferred natural products for curing.

COVID-19

The research was developed with a focus on individuals making decisions for themselves among multiple treatment options (some natural, some synthetic). But the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic raises important questions about the implications—and future directions—of their research.

For instance, the authors ask, do pandemics induce a macro-level version of a curative mindset?

“In other words, society may conclude that there already exists a problem (a widespread ailment) that needs to be cured, thereby placing more importance on potency relative to safety,” they write.

Relatedly, consumer acceptance of a prevention for pandemics and epidemics might be affected by the contagiousness of a disease, severity of a disease, scarcity of treatment options, and novelty of and lack of knowledge about the threat. And each might have downstream consequences on safety/potency tradeoffs consumers are willing to make.

Contributions

The paper makes several contributions. “Our primary contribution is to provide an organizing principle for explaining when consumers prefer natural products,” the authors write. The prevent/cure distinction explains variation in the preference for natural

  • across distinct product categories such as food and medicine,
  • within product categories such as different types of medicine,
  • and for the same product depending on whether consumers used it to prevent or to cure ailments.

“In doing so, our research not only generates new predictions, but also helps unify past descriptive findings under one theoretical framework.”

From an applied perspective, “the identified organizing principle can help marketers predict when and where the preference for natural is likely to loom large.”

Marketers and managers often must make decisions about when to invest in a natural brand or product line.

“Our research suggests that, all else equal, natural products are most popular when they are used for preventative purposes.”




Displaying family photos in the workplace cuts down on employee fraud and other unethical behavior, new WashU Olin research finds.

For instance, in one study the researchers conducted, participants who looked at pictures of family or friends filed expense reports claiming about $8 less on average than workers without pictures. While $8 may not seem like much, it can add up quickly.

Ashley Hardin

“If numerous employees submit monthly expense reports to a company, it’s easy to imagine the financial impact of the reduction in unethical behavior over time,” said Olin’s Ashley Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior.

Hardin is coauthor of “Show me the … family: How photos of meaningful relationships reduce unethical behavior at work,” in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Photos at work

More than 70% of workers display photos in their workspace, and people have a great deal of choice in what they put up, Hardin said.

At the same time, companies have considerable influence over whether employees have photos in their workstations by signaling their acceptability.

Hardin and coauthors theorized that having photos of “close others” in view “decreases the hegemony of an economic schema in people’s minds”—in other words, reduces the prioritization of self-interest, among other things, which decreases their propensity to misbehave. These hypotheses were supported across four studies. These hypotheses were supported across four studies.

Photos are a cue to the self and others because they convey information about values and interests, previous research has found. Until now, however, the effect of personalizing one’s workplace with photos on financial transgressions was unexplored.

The authors conducted a field survey and three experiments and found a negative relationship between displaying photos of family or friends, rather than photos of landscapes, at work and financial transgressions.

Practical implications

Given the frequency and cost of unethical behavior at work, “there is great interest in understanding what contributes to these behaviors and how to curb such conduct,” the authors write. Hardin conducted the research with Christopher Bauman of the University of California, Irvine, and David Mayer of the University of Michigan.

Their results consistently indicate that the presence of photos of close others (e.g., family and friends) reduces the likelihood that individuals will over-report their earnings, pad expense reports and engage in other bad behavior.

“Our findings are relevant for individuals at work. For example, individuals who want to guard against their own unethical behavior could display photos of friends and family in their workspaces,” Hardin said.

And companies should consider encouraging employees to display photos of family and friends.

“More broadly, companies and individuals alike should be mindful of how their physical surroundings may be influencing their behavior,” the authors write.

“Whereas some organizations encourage segmentation of work and life by penalizing those who bring outside topics into work, our findings suggest that this segmentation may have an unexpected downside in terms of unethical behavior.

“Our results suggest that subtle adjustments to the physical context can alter employee behavior, and it should, therefore, be possible to design organizational interventions that help to inhibit fraud and other forms of undesirable behavior.”




Employees with a higher purpose have more well-being, more happiness and even lower stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new survey by two WashU Olin professors.

And the effects were more substantial when they had written down their purpose statements.

Also, employees of organizations with higher-purpose statements are happier and prouder of their organizations than are employees at workplaces without such a statement, the results show. Again, the effects were stronger when the purpose statement was written—and tied to society, employees and customers, rather than shareholders.

The findings echo the August 2019 announcement by the powerful corporate lobby group of U.S. leaders called the Business Roundtable, focusing the future on purpose. Such evidence of a national shift dovetails nicely with one of Olin’s key strategic pillars: values-based, data driven decision making.

Anjan Thakor and Stuart Bunderston

“As human beings, we are wired for purpose—to know why, to seek meaning in the things we do,” said Stuart Bunderson, director of the Bauer Leadership Center and the George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance. “When we have clarity on what our purpose is, we are happier and more fulfilled.”

Bunderson and Anjan Thakor surveyed 1,109 people in May to learn about their commitment to and perceived worth of a personal and organizational higher purpose.

Thakor is coauthor of the book The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization, director of Olin’s doctoral programs and the Center for Finance & Accounting Research, and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance.

Conference leads to curiosity

The professors’ curiosity was piqued during a fall 2019 conference they organized on WashU’s campus about personal and organizational higher purpose. Academic researchers, consultants and corporate leaders came together to share findings and experiences.

A presentation by Vic Strecher of the University of Michigan particularly struck Bunderson and Thakor, they write in their report June 2020 report “Personal and Organizational Higher Purpose: Survey Results.”

Strecher noted that workers’ stress levels and dissatisfaction were rising, even as economic conditions were improving. As for the next group entering the workforce, he also mentioned that suicidal ideation had doubled on US college campuses in the past decade. Stretcher stressed the importance of a personal higher purpose in coping with the stresses, noting that someone who does not “repurpose their life” at retirement is 2.4 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than someone who adopts an authentic higher purpose.

Speaker Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, emphasized the importance of organizational higher purpose. Some 65% of people would give up a raise if they could fire their own boss, he said. He also noted that an employee’s boss is more critical to that employee’s health than the family doctor.

“These remarks and other discussions at the conference made us curious to know more,” Bunderson and Thakor say in their report on their survey.

“What does personal higher purpose really do for people? How do individuals perceive the value of personal purpose in their lives? What is the role of an organization’s higher purpose in the lives of its employees? Are there any connections between personal and organizational higher purpose?”

Write it down

The 1,019 individuals they surveyed in May were employed and chosen as representative of the American population’s gender, racial and geographic diversity.

“I was most surprised by the fact that when companies have written statements of higher purpose,” Thakor said, “not only do the employees trust its leaders to make socially responsible decisions, but also better business decisions.”

Bunderson said he was “very surprised at how much more powerful these effects are when the purpose statement is written down. It’s like that old saying that a goal you don’t write down is just a wish.”

Additional findings included:

  • A majority of respondents had a personal higher purpose, but most had not written it down;
  • Having a written personal statement of purpose helped people in various ways, including coping with stress and finding happiness;
  • Curiously, those with a written higher purpose also reported higher levels of anxiety;
  • The incidence of written statements of higher purpose was higher among organizations than among individuals;
  • Employees at organizations with higher purpose statements were prouder of working for their organizations and happier than other employees;
  • Organizational higher purpose statements were more effective when written down and when they emphasized society, customers, employees and stakeholders other than shareholders;
  • Employees of organizations with higher purpose statements are more likely to have personal statements of higher purpose.

“We aren’t exactly sure why that is the case, but it may be that employees who work for organizations with a higher purpose statement are inspired to develop one for their lives,” Bunderson said. “This may be one way that good work practices can positively impact employees’ personal lives.”

The finding about higher levels of anxiety, he said, is “generally consistent with research suggesting that a sense of duty or stewardship toward something or someone can be both a burden and an important source of meaning.”

Using the survey findings, Bunderson and Thakor have built a personal higher purpose index and an organizational higher purpose index.

“These will enable us to examine how personal and organizational higher purpose and their perceived outcomes change over time,” Bunderson said.

Capitalizing on purpose

Businesses have risen from ruins because of their ability to recognize and capitalize on purpose, Thakor emphasizes in presentations. Those businesses have excelled and grown. But they don’t do it at the expense of making a buck.

Thakor cites a couple of examples of organizational higher purpose in his working paper “Higher Purpose, Incentives and Economic Performance.”

  • Detroit-based DTE Energy clarifies its higher purpose as being “a force for growth and prosperity.” The company names four pillars through which its social impact is to manifest: people (“improving lives and creating opportunity”), places (“partners with communities for growth”), planet (“leadership toward cleaner energy and environmental stewardship”) and progress (“powering a brighter tomorrow”).
  • Tree T-PEE, based in Arcadia, Florida, offers water-containment systems for agribusiness. It articulates its higher purpose as helping farmers conserve water and energy in farming.

Learn more

To explore more about the concept of a higher purpose, you may want to read these blog posts:




Lauren Herring is CEO of IMPACT Group, a global leader in employee career development. Under her leadership, the company now operates in more than 77 international locations in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Herring spoke to Olin students in January in Defining Moments: Lessons in Leadership and Character from the Top, a class the Bauer Leadership Center offers.

Here, Brinda Perumal, MBA ’20, shares her thoughts on Herring’s talk:

Philosophy of leadership

Brinda Perumal

Lauren Herring believes that you should be the CEO of your own career. As CEO of your own career, you should plan intentionally and reflect annually, or ever quarterly, about what you want in life. Are you doing things today that will help you get there? As long as you feel that you are in the right place at the right time, there is no correct career path.

Ultimately, Lauren stated the importance of being true to yourself and your personality. There may be traits of other leaders that you want to emulate, but, at the end of the day, stay true to your brand and remember that gravitas comes from inside you. It is important to believe in yourself and your work so that you remember why you are doing what you are doing. Your confidence, core values and a sense of who you are will be your assets toward success as a leader.

Impact of philosophy

The idea of being the CEO of your own career has permeated her own path to leadership. Lauren’s goal was never to do what all her peers were doing but rather to follow the path that was right for her. Her decision to help the family when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and focus on her own career later ultimately shifted into her wanting to become more involved with IMPACT Group. This entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risk has guided her rise to leadership and her actions as a leader.

Lauren did express that this desire to make the business her own may have been taken too far. Looking back, she wishes that rather than feeling the need to be able to prove how much she knows and that she had all the answers, she would have focused on asking more questions, engaging others along the way and inviting others’ opinions. From her experience, she shared with us the importance of making others feel valued, smart and engaged by bringing them into decisions and asking for their advice.

What I learned and would want to emulate

Lauren advised us to be not just the CEO of our careers but also the CMO of our career. I plan to implement this advice as I work on building my brand, so that I can promote and manage my personal brand while owning who I am. I really admired Lauren’s presence in the room. She was very down-to-earth and relatable. It was easy to see that success had not changed her as a person. She was clearly very true to herself and her core values and passionate about the work she does. I hope that I can carry myself the same way she does—with poise, relatability, and compassion—as a leader.

Pictured at top: Lauren Herring, CEO of IMPACT Group