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Can self-interest (proself) work for the collective good? Unless we presuppose the metaphysics of an invisible hand of the market, then there is a contradiction in that question. Cooperation is also a topic where the economicus/ psychologicus controversy manifests itself (Hoelzl & Kirchler, 2010). The former thinks that social order will be some kind of emergent phenomenon even if people act out of self-interest (Sen, 2010), while the latter think that collective action is contingent on strong prosocial drives (Meloni, 2014; Pollard & Blumstein, 2011).
Poor cooperation is arguably one of the biggest issues of our times, whether it be within romantic relationships or the confines of a corporate boardroom. We frequently have to deal with social dilemmas where we have to evaluate the gains of individualist vis-à-vis more collectivistic actions. Granted, that latter dilemma is also highly politicized. Yet, it requires less effort per subject to act as a collective, but we risk free riders. Like in negotiations, our actions in cooperative settings are greatly influenced by such factors as e.g. cognitive biases (D. Kahneman, 2012), organizational structures (Scott & Davis, 2007), social norms (Biel & Thøgersen, 2007), personality (Boone & De Brabander, 1999), personal values (Grant & Berg, 2012), culture (Hofstede, 1984), and group size (De Cremer & Leonardelli, 2003).
It is important to know how structural factors can affect cooperation. Since how an organization is organized, regarding organization chart and IT, will determine the means and ends of cooperation. You can find allot of interesting data by analyzing an organizations social network, and that also enables you to identify bottlenecks and other factors that reduce performance (Scott & Davis, 2007).
Modern organizations have adopted organizational charts that are more flat, meritocratic, and dynamic than ever before, in large part due to ICT and globalization (Barber, 2009; Scott & Davis, 2007). Such organizations are a mix of formal and informal social networks (Bögenhold, 2013). Business is becoming increasingly digitalized, and research on virtual meetings has found that negotiation through such means resulted in more hostility and less profit (Stuhlmacher & Citera, 2005). Site visits between employees working in different locations does produce long-term bonding effects (Hinds & Cramton, 2014), and could be beneficial for virtual teams.
Prosocial behavior is to engage in positive actions benefiting other people (Grant & Berg, 2012). Empathy, trust, concern, moral values, and reciprocity (giving, matching and taking) can motivate such behavior, but actions should not be contingent on personal gain. Of these three types of reciprocity, giving is the most idealized version in the literature, because the other two are undifferentiated from economicus thinking, especially taking. Giving might be particularly irrational from an economicus standpoint, but we will see that there is a growing body of evidence in its favor and the disfavor of self-interest.
The assumption of self-interest conflicts with the strong human need to belong to social groups, and the link between solitude and a host of mental health issues is strong (Masi, Chen, Hawkley, & Cacioppo, 2011; Smith, 2013). The rewarding facets of prosocial behavior might actually be deeply interconnected with the evolutionary success of our species (Meloni, 2014), and even babies seem to prefer prosociality (Hamlin & Wynn, 2011). On the flipside, the advancement of western civilization and business is courtesy of courage to rebel against established authorities, both political and religio-cultural, and one could argue that we need individualistic iconoclasts to act as catalysts for such developments (Dear, 2009). Yet, that does not necessarily mean that colorful figures like Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, who think very outside the box, are doing so with self-interested motivations; self-interest and individualism are not synonyms, notwithstanding connotative similarities.
Challenges of modernization
Some major macro-level developments have complicated prosocial motivation in our times by overloading it, i.e. ICT, globalization, and urbanization. All these have been enormously helpful, but there is a flipside. Our limited cognitive faculties (D. Kahneman, 2012) are put under an unparalleled pressure by these forces. The rise of ICT is a game changer in that we now spend increasing amounts of time in virtual cyberspace (Simpson, 2014), whether it’s in a meeting with someone half-across the world or milking the cows with a friend in Farmville. It is a question for philosophers whether virtual prosocial behavior are as experientially meaningful as similar actions in real-life.
Growing cities and increasing diversity is also a part of modernization, but it can engender social overload because you only know a tiny fraction of the people in your community. This is also salient in the corporate settings, because the workforce is more mobile and relationships hence more fleeting. Interestingly, experiments on the emotional benefit of interacting with strangers shows that people mistakenly think solitude is better (Epley & Schroeder, 2014), which is symptomatic of the self-fulfilling nature of our theories about the world. More, a recent review of the literature on generational differences has found an increase in individualism across generations, which can create difficulties for the future workplace (Lyons & Kuron, 2014). It seems like perceptions play a key role in behavior, since people who perceive a conflict between self- and other other-orientation will act accordingly (De Dreu & Nauta, 2009). Dreu and Nauta (2009) argue that they are independent.
Proself economicus also conflicts with the importance of trust (Gillespie & Dietz, 2009), since the assumption that people are self-interested can induce allot of paranoia. An organization is not going to work without trust, because trust is the glue that makes such social networks stick together (Shazi, Gillespie, & Steen). Distrust is not inimical to cooperation, but it certainly reduces efficiency and relational development. Managers play an important role in the culture of trust in a company, since managers “need” to control the employees can create an aura of distrust, and its hence crucial that employees feel that the level of monitoring is fair and legitimate (C. P. Long, Bendersky, & Morrill, 2011).
While it is common to blame public trust failures, like Enron, on rogue employees, failures usually grow out of an enabling organizational culture (Hurley, Gillespie, Ferrin, & Dietz, 2013). Naturally, trust is especially important under high conflicts of interest (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013), like a company expecting efficient work from consultants paid on an hourly basis. Recent models of how workplace relationships develop show that economicus instrumentalism becomes decreasingly important, while trust is constant (Ferris et al., 2009). High employer trustworthiness is also a competitive advantage, in that it can make it possible to implement more ambitious changes without losing the support of employees (Searle et al., 2011).
The manager’s role in cooperation
Managers play a formative role in the kind of incentive system the company uses, and these systems have a big impact on employee behavior (Balliet, Mulder, & Van Lange, 2011). It is in this regard wise to have a reward system with a healthy combination of individual, team and organization-level incentives. Since you do not want it to be a heaven for freeriders, nor a place where employees do not help each other. Many of the demographic and contextual factors mentioned in the previous session, are likely to impact cooperation as well. Some industries, like finance and sales, have a long tradition of competitive individual incentive systems, though better cooperation in those industries could become a source of competitive advantage. Biases has to be dealt with in order to change an organization, since people are emotionally invested in previous actions.
The key message from the prosocial literature (Grant & Berry, 2011) is that we need to prime prosocial behavior in people, and the best way of doing that is to vividly show employees how they make a difference in other peoples life; whether it be by contacting recipients of one’s product/service, or positive interactions between employees in the company. Something as simple as saying thanks when receiving a service, big or small, seem to incentivize prosocial behavior (Grant & Gino, 2010). Which demonstrates the plasticity of culture, and integrating gratitude into corporate code of conduct could be very beneficial for the company. Giving time and money to other people is a rewarding experience for us (Aknin et al., 2013), and is even related to individual mortality (Konrath, 2014). Incorporating volunteering into the companies CSR program could be very beneficial in increasing the happiness (Smith, 2013) and performance of employees (Grant, 2012).
Managers should foster organizational attachment by encouraging positive formal and informal ties between employees, and play a proactive role in resolving conflicts (Venkataramani, Labianca, & Grosser, 2013). These ties are often invisible, but network analysis can give a blueprint from which to build energizing relationships and reveal who the informal opinion leaders are (Cross, Gray, Gerbasi, & Assimakopoulos, 2012). Managers should incentivize prosocial behavior by celebrating and rewarding giving behaviors, identify role models, and generally create a culture where help-seeking and giving behavior is the norm (Amabile, Fisher, & Pillemer, 2014). Though they should bear in mind that authenticity is important for prosocial motivation, and disingenuous acts of giving can backfire.
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