This module is a resource for lecturers  


Possible class structure


This section contains recommendations for a teaching sequence and timing intended to achieve learning outcomes through a three-hour class. The lecturer may wish to disregard or shorten some of the segments below in order to give more time to other elements, including introduction, icebreakers, conclusion or short breaks. The structure could also be adapted for shorter or longer classes, given that the class durations vary across countries.

Class overview (10 min)

  • Introduction to the idea that behavioural ethics focuses on understanding the psychological causes of ethical and unethical behaviour. Changing ethical behaviour requires knowing its psychological causes.
  • Introduction to "myths" of morality: Common intuition routinely misunderstands these causes, providing oversimplified assessments of ethical behaviour that overlook important causes, and impede our ability to change ethical behaviour.

Four myths about morality (45 min)

  • Present common intuitions about the causes of ethical behaviour that oversimplify reality.
  • Present results of pre-class surveys, if used.
  • Emphasize that common intuition suggests that morality is primarily a belief problem. Behavioural science demonstrates that morality is influenced by the context people are in, not just by the type of people they are, and this contextual influence is more powerful than people generally expect. Ethics can therefore be thought of as a design problem, rather than just as a belief problem.

Ethics as a design problem (15 min)

  • You can change ethical behaviour by changing the context people are in. You can change ethical behaviour by designing contexts that help people avoid ethical risks, bring ethics to the top of people's minds, and motivate ethical behaviour.
  • Key principles of behaviour design:
    • Make desired behaviour easy (remove barriers that make ethical actions harder than they need to be)
    • Protect from risk (it is easy to underestimate ethical risks)
    • Design to be better (no system is perfect, and one should not let perfection be the enemy of improvement)

Ethics, by design (25 min)

  • Distinguish the language of beliefs versus design: begin by talking about how to treat ethics as a problem of design rather than simply as a problem of beliefs.
  • Note that current compliance programmes often implicitly focus on beliefs and values of employees. The challenge is that companies may say the right things but not put them into practice.
  • Lecturers could refer to the Enron mission statement, including a fictitious and intentionally humorous rendition that is closer to Enron's actual behaviour.
  • Explain that encouraging ethics through design focuses on a person's attention, motivation, and norms.

Turning principles into practice (20 min)

  • Present two basic steps for turning principles into practice:
    • Articulating principles: mission statements must be memorable, actionable, and focused on unique core attributes.
    • Enacting principles: create norms that guide action.
  • Stress the two primary problems of turning principles into daily practices. The first is ethical unawareness: principles guide behaviour only when thinking about them. Second, actions guide behaviour more than articulated principles and words.
  • Discuss the investment advisor demonstration from Pre-class survey 3 as an illustration of ethical (un)awareness.

Case study: your ethical beacon (30 min)

  • Give students five minutes to discuss their ethical beacon (see Case study) with the person sitting next to them.
  • Discuss the following questions with the class
    • What was your ethical beacon?
    • How do they lead with ethical principles?
    • How do they enact principles in day-to-day practices (such as hiring, evaluation, compensation, or policies)?
    • How do they respond to inevitable ethical failings?

Designing a more ethical organization (30 min)

  • Discuss concrete examples of organizations designing more ethical systems into everyday practices of hiring, promoting, rewarding, and monitoring.

Conclusion (5 min)

  • End with a summary of the session, and a framework for remembering the most important psychological dimensions to keep in mind when designing a more ethical system.
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