Good for interpretation: Social-do-gooding brags by certain CEOs

This week’s Make-of-This-What-You-Will Press Release comes from the University of California, Riverside. It says, in part:

This dynamic – espousing good actions but then taking steps in the opposite direction – is surprisingly common among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, researchers have found in a just published paper.

wongThey found firms that engaged in prior socially responsible behavior are more likely to then engage in socially irresponsible behavior and that this tendency is stronger in firms with CEOs who attempt to put forth a moral image.

“The finding is very counterintuitive,” said Elaine Wong [pictured here, above], an assistant professor of management at the University of California, Riverside School of Business Administration who co-authored the paper. “You wouldn’t think doing well by one’s stakeholders would set the stage for actions that harm stakeholders in the future.”

ormistonWong co-authored the paper, “License to Ill: The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and CEO Moral Identity on Corporate Irresponsibility,” with Margaret Ormiston [pictured here, below], a faculty member at the London Business School. It was just published in the winter 2013 issue of the journal Personnel Psychology…

Here are two of the many ways to interpret this [wording differences between the two are underlined, for clarity]:

  1. Some corporate CEOs have their companies do some socially wonderful things, but their companies inexplicably later “engage in socially irresponsible behavior”.
  2. Some corporate CEOs say that their companies do some socially wonderful things, but their companies “engage in socially irresponsible behavior”.

Possibly there are other ways to interpret the study and the press release. Discuss.

BONUS: Wong and Ormiston: Some Men Have Heads Built for Success or for Evil