BP and the Gulf of Mexico
(What factors in this situation encouraged individuals to engage in excessive risk taking?)
The factors that encouraged individuals to engage in excessive risk taking are the following: an organizational culture that encourages excessive risk taking instead of discouraging it, pressure from superiors to expedite work in order to reduce costs, the fact that the work being done was behind schedule, a false sense of security about the platform's safety.
By an organizational culture that encourages excessive risk taking instead of discouraging it I mean that historically, senior managers of BP have turned a blind eye to excessive risk taking as long as short term profitability goals were achieved. At the same time they were applying pressure to increase short term profits by reducing costs and did not take the appropriate measure to ensure that costs would not be cut at the expense of safety. Because this was done consistently for quite some time, it created an incentive system that encouraged this type of behaviour and shaped the organizational culture of the firm. A case in point is the fact that the two BP employees who raised safety concerns were dismissed and their warnings were ignored. This kind of actions send messages to employees about what is "appropriate" behaviour within the organization and form the organizational culture.
The reasons behind top executives' behaviour are hard to pinpoint and their attitude could range from being unethical and greedy to being genuinely concerned about ethics but having succumbed to cognitive biases.
Whatever was their motivation it resulted in a leadership failure. In the case of cognitive biases this could have happened because of ill conceived goals, motivated blindness, the slippery slope, indirect blindness or overvaluing outcomes.
Failing to consider the effects of the goals and the reward system that they created through the perspective of those for whom they were meant lead to ill conceived goals and consequently to people engaging in unethical behaviour.
Motivated blindness might have occurred because of conflicts of interest. For instance, the…