In light of the recent economic crisis, there are a new set of selection criteria being touted as crucial to work in the financial sector and business in general. As covered in the Economist (June 6, 2009) some students are now taking an oath prior to graduation to operate in a manner that  ‘will does no harm, ‘is ethical’ and ‘is in good faith’. As part of this oath, graduates will allow both peers and future employers to hold them accountable for any behaviour that is contrary to this oath. MBA students from ivy league university’s are pledging this oath and reporting the oath as important as grades in respect of their suitability for employment.

How this oath will work in practice in my opinion will be dictated by the market and evidence. If the market does indeed see this oath as having commercial merit than those who take the oath are more likely to be employed. This will obviously create a virtuous cycle.

However, all it will take is one negative instance of a person who has taken the oath to commit crime in the future and the perceived value of the oath will be diminished.  One negative instance will result in the oath being branded by the media as nothing more than rhetoric. MBA graduates are an easy target and the oath will not be tested until temptation is put in the way!

More importantly, as I/O psychologists we are all too acutely aware of the trouble of self-report and changing behaviour. The intention may be good but to carry this oath through life requires a commitment that not all will have.

While Don Tapscott (co-author of Wikinomics) may see accountability to such things as the oath the basis for trust in the modern economy I would suggest that life is unfortunately not that simple. The basic premise ‘let past behaviour predict’ will always be far more compelling to me than an oath taken when one has very little to lose or gain by such an undertaking.