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Integrity@Work: What’s your MoralDNA®?

By Roger Steare

Integrity@Work: What’s your MoralDNA®?

In his first blog for Thinkers50, Roger Steare offers us an opportunity to look in the mirror and reflect on how we decide what’s right, both in our personal and professional lives. He also shares some insights into the MoralDNA® of over 80,000 people from around the world all of whom have completed the online profiling tool since its launch in 2008.

As a professional moral philosopher, I’m fascinated by the way we think about the ethical decisions we make and, in my work with employers around the world, I’ve discovered how to help leaders and followers better understand and consider ethical decision-making. Instead of discussing moral philosophies using academic terms such as Consequentialism, Virtue and Deontology, I find it more helpful to use everyday language to think and talk about how our decisions affect People; about what Principles we consider; and what Rules we obey.

In 2008 I met Pavlos Stampoulides, a leading psychometrician based in Athens. I asked Pavlos to help me design, test and pilot the prototype of MoralDNA to help people understand how they prefer to decide what’s right. With the support of Cass Business School, PWC and The Times, over 20,000 people completed our first version with results published in The Times in October 2008.

In 2010 we added a further dimension and asked people to complete their profile, thinking first about their personal life and then their professional or working lives. Today, in 2019, we have over 80,000 completed profiles by people from over 200 countries.

Now, before you read any further,please go to MoralDNA.org and complete your profile. Fully optimised for phones and tablets, it takes just five minutes, is free for personal and educational purposes and is fully GDPR compliant.

Welcome back!

So, what did you discover about your own morality and what have we discovered about human morality? What’s your MoralDNA “type”? Are you an Angel, a Philosopher, a Guardian or a Judge? Are you the same type in your personal life as you are at work?

As you can see from the following graphs, through this research we have discovered some fascinating insights about human morality…

  1. Our morality evolves as we mature. In Graph 1, you can see that whilst we think about People pretty much as a constant throughout our lives, our preference for Principles increases with age, whilst our preference for Rules decreases as we mature. This finding supports Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development in which he described this age-related shift from Rules to Principles[1].But his student Carol Gilligan argued that Kohlberg hadn’t properly explored the Ethic of Care, which we refer to and measure as People[2].

Graph 1

“Compassion is the basis for morality.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

2. There are significant differences by gender. Graph 2 picks up strongly on Gilligan’s hypothesis about the Ethic of Care, clearly showing the female thinking bias towards People, whilst men prefer Rules when thinking about the right thing to do.

Graph 2

“Integrity has no need of rules.”

Albert Camus

3. But at work, for most of us, our preference for Rules dominates at the expense of People.  In Graph 3 we can see how at work many of us become “compliant robots”, emotionally driven by our fear of the consequences of breaking the Rules. At the same time, our concern for the outcomes of our decisions on People is significantly suppressed. We think much less about the impact of our decisions on customers, colleagues, suppliers, our local communities and even shareholders.This change in our bias towards Rules over People we call the “Fear Factor”.

Graph 3

Thinkers50 Award Winner and Ranked Thinker Amy Edmondson has written extensively about the positive impact of psychological safety in the workplace and our research indicates how being true to our personal morality at work would be a big step in the right direction.

In addition to this core MoralDNA research,we have worked closely with professional service firms like EY, Oliver Wyman and PWC. We have also conducted extensive research for the Chartered Management Institute and you can read our detailed findings here.

We have gathered a huge amount of research material in our database, giving us the ability to profile groups of people by function, profession and sector. We even have data on education, religion and political beliefs! But for now, I hope this gives you some food for thought around what MoralDNA can tell us.

If you lead an organisation or run a business, the insights we can discover about the MoralDNA of teams are profound. But, what can we do with this analysis, how does it help?

The answer is two-fold, in improving both…

1. our decision-making at work

2. the quality of our culture at work

With both, you won’t be surprised to learn,that for most people it means being less of a compliant robot and more of a caring human being. We will explore more in future Integrity@Work blogs, here at Thinkers50.

So, do let us know what you think about ourresearch and results in the Comments section. What further insights would interest you? I will do my best to answer your questions in future blogs.

Roger Steare is Visiting Professor in the Practice of Organisational Ethics at Cass Business School in London. He also works as The Corporate Philosopher, advising organisations around the world on leadership, culture and ethics.

Twitter: @RogerSteare

LinkedIn: LinkedIn.com/in/RogerSteare


[1] Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-064760-4.

[2] Gilligan, Carol (1982). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University PressISBN 9780674445444.

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