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How Volkswagen's Company Culture Could Have Led Employees To Cheat

Stashed in: Culture, Money!, Ethics, Customers!, Pants on fire!, Ethics

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There was the long tenure of Ferdinand Piëch (a Porsche grandson), the chief executive from 1993 until 2002, who preceded Winterkorn. Piëch was a tough leader who once wrote, "My need for harmony is limited," and touted the fact that he was only called to the helm when the company was in "severe difficulty."

An accomplished engineer, Piëch was said to be able to point out flaws that designers had missed and was responsible for many innovations. Likewise, Winterkorn walked around with a gauge to measure car door gaps and criticized employees publicly.

Between the two chiefs, it’s not hard to see why staff might have withheld information that could have led to their termination. But whether the executives knew of the cheating is still in question.

As Volkswagen’s new CEO, Müller is working to change the company culture, eschewing "yes" men in favor of people who "follow their instincts, and are not merely guided by the possible consequences of impending failure," the Timesreports.

But theirs is a for-profit business, and money can change the ethical temperature of a culture pretty quickly. More than a dozen studies found that just thinking about money can lead to dishonest behavior, and the term "moral muteness" has been coined to define the way managers will make an economic case to justify a certain decision they made based on ethics.

So employees should think about making customers happy, not money. 

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