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New research: organizations that move fast really do break things

When organizations grow too fast, they expose themselves to several risks. In the past, research has shown that people who try to move forward without careful evaluation is often associated with unethical decision-making, while taking time to evaluate consequences is associated with ethical decisions. Does this same rule apply also to organizations?

Research conducted in part at the House of Innovation found that this is indeed the case. When an organization engenders a culture of quick progress at the expense of assessment, then that organization is more likely to engage in unethical decision-making. Further, if an organization’s mission statement promotes this same approach – taking action first and then managing the consequences later – then that organization’s individual employees can end up making problematic decisions as well.

This research indicates that the language used in mission statements can predict violations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “Franchises whose mission statements emphasized locomotion ("just do it") over assessment ("do the right thing") were significantly more likely to be charged with discrimination.” The more quick action terms and fewer assessment terms that are in an organization’s mission statement, the greater the likelihood that a franchise will be named in an EEOC discrimination lawsuit.

In a lab experiment, people guided by “Fast Speed” motivational mission statements were much more likely than people guided by a “Thoughtful Care” mission statements to choose an illegal course of action when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. A grow-at-all costs mentality advocated by a mission statement can contribute to the causes of illegal discrimination at work.

“The findings have implications beyond franchises, especially for fast-growing tech firms. The same mode of uncompromising, fast-paced goal pursuit that can propel a company's growth may also leave it vulnerable to unethical action like discrimination.” This research points to the necessity for organizations not just to grow, but to grow conscientiously, and to communicate these balanced motivations in their day-to-day lexicon.

Researchers

Dana Kanze
London Business School

Mark A. Conley
House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics

Tory Higgins
Motivation Science Center, Columbia University

House of Innovation Governance Innovation Leadership Management Strategy Sustainability Article Journal Publication Research

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