The concept of 'tone at the top' describes the attitude of an organisation’s board of directors and senior management towards setting and promoting guiding values and an ethical culture.

Across geographic locations all respondents considered tone at the top to be most influential. However, for respondents in Africa and parts of Asia rules and procedures played a larger role than for respondents in Europe and America. In Europe and America personal agendas were a stronger driver.

What motivates

Employees are motivated by:

  • recognition
  • responsibility
  • and challenge.

These three motivators are stronger than monetary rewards.

The research suggests that performance-related pay schemes may not fulfil their primary objective of fostering best performance. The fear is that these schemes lead people to exaggerate or otherwise falsify their measures in order to reach their targets.

Walking the talk

The most powerful way to promote functional behaviour at work is by senior leaders and managers 'walking the talk'.

Walking the talk means:

  • sending consistent messages
  • and displaying consistent behaviours.

These messages and behaviours must be aligned to the organisation’s expressed core values. 

A donut chart showing responses to the question: what most influences corporate behaviour? 61% said tone at the top, 20% incentives (not only related to pay), 10% rules and procedures, 9% personal agendas

Cognitive bias

Cognitive bias can adversely affect good decision-making. People have to make judgements in uncertain conditions and are often prone to errors when doing so. This is cognitive bias.

Teams, including boards, should be better trained in recognising these. This would help them develop better, objective and critical decision-making skills.

Self- interest is the most influential factor in potentially causing people to override corporate procedures and rules.

About Jamie Lyon, lead author, ACCA