Alison Taylor has an insightful piece in the Harvard Business Review with important red flags to indicate that executives and directors may be at risk for ethical violations. She says that rather than a “rotten apple” model, “we see a “tone at the top” underpinned by widespread willful blindness, toxic incentives, and mechanisms that deflect scrutiny. These conditions seem to persist and metastasize. They replicate despite changes in leadership and in management systems.”
Responding to problems with “urgency and fear…can be used to justify the creation and maintenance of toxic incentives, and it will undermine any efforts to raise concerns.” She also points to “fragmentation and plausible deniability” as indicators of a problem.
Unethical cultures have similarities, but what we need to describe is an absence. There will be a lack of perspective taking, an unthinking, reactive way of dealing with time and pressure, no alternative narrative to growth at all costs. By contrast, ethical cultures are not all the same, and they are much harder to maintain than to destroy.