When the going gets tough, cheat.  This, apparently, is one of the lessons learned by some Harvard students, recently accused of cheating.   The idea that college students would find these actions acceptable dumbfounded me as I glanced at the Middle School Honor Code my daughter signed this week and recalled a pledge I made many years ago in graduate school.

Recent revelations about “alleged” cheating at Harvard raise troubling questions and point a damning finger at our society.  What does this incident say about:

  • An institution that is supposed to attract the best our country (and many times, other countries) has to offer?
  • Students who choose dishonesty as the best path to relieve the stress of a pressure-packed environment?
  • Future leaders of government and business?

The incident might say:

  • If Harvard is among the most selective universities in the U.S., they need to be more selective.
  • The school motto should be changed.  Perhaps a lower bar such as “Veritatem, cum Opportunis” would be more attainable.
  • Harvard should revisit its decision to scrap a voluntary freshman pledge to uphold “integrity, respect, and industry.”  At least some of the students don’t value common decency.

Beyond my rant about students with questionable morals, what does this scandal have to do with customer experience?  Everything.  This incident strikes at the heart of business.  Without honesty we lose trust.  Our very business dealings depend on honesty when:

The pivot point is that without an underlying foundation of honesty and trust, business, government and everyday life becomes a race to win at someone else’s expense.  Instead, follow the straight-forward advice of incoming freshman Megan Taing “I can understand the pressure of having a really hard assignment,” she said. “But they have to own up to it.”

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