When we sign up for a Netflix account, the company agrees to provide us with programming, and we agree to pay a monthly fee.
In addition, we agree not to share our password with people outside of our household.
Oh, but wait! That last bit is in the small print that no one reads. You know, just above the “I accept” button. If no one reads that stuff, and everyone knows that no one reads that stuff, then it’s not enforceable, right?
“I accept.” It’s pretty straight-forward English.
So Netflix is entirely within its rights to enforce the agreement, and everyone complaining about it should have an honest look in the mirror.
The very first motion I filed in a US court was an order to show cause, seeking a judgment of contempt of court against an executrix who was not complying with a court order in favor of my client. The executrix faced imprisonment as a result. You simply can’t ignore a court order.
So it has been interesting to observe how Donald Trump has been defying court orders with little consequences. The same person who expected everyone to comply with his executive orders is now disregarding judicial orders. And if the judicial branch is hesitating to find him in contempt now, imagine their restraint if he gets elected again.
In the workplace, we see similar behaviors from senior executives who believe that the Code of Conduct or certain corporate policies don’t apply to them. They expect loyalty from everyone else but feel bound by no person or rule. These leaders create a toxic culture at the top, which quickly seeps into the lower ranks. Within a few years, most of these organizations are embroiled in scandals, and many implode.
Corporations, courts, and countries should never tolerate someone who believes they are above the law.
In a study by Kouchaki and Desai (2015), employees who reflected on the importance of ethical behavior were found to be less likely to engage in unethical behavior.
To create the conditions for such reflection, companies often provide off-the-shelf ethics training. Unfortunately, most employees find the traditional online modules to be relatively boring (and the end-of-module quiz too easy).
Perhaps a more engaging approach is to provide employees with opportunities to discuss real-world ethical dilemmas. A quick look at the morning news should offer several examples of cheating, lying, and stealing. Any supervisor can start a discussion with this phrase: “This just happened at Company X. Could it happen here? If not, why? If yes, how could we respond differently?”
Doing this on a regular basis is sure to align the moral compass of most employees. Give it a shot.
If the reports are true, this is what happened in just a few days at NBC Universal: a subordinate of the CEO complained of an inappropriate relationship with him, the company investigated, and the CEO apologized and stepped down.
Things rarely move this fast and so transparently. But speed and transparency are necessary if you want your employees to believe your dedication to live by your stated values.
How would a similar situation be handled at your company?
Supreme Court Justice Roberts has just been “invited” to testify before the Judiciary Committee.
This speaks to the accountability of individuals in positions of power. While the circumstances surrounding Justice Roberts’ testimony are unique to the legal and political sphere, there are important lessons that can be applied in a corporate setting.
One key takeaway is the importance of transparency and accountability in decision-making processes. In a corporate setting, leaders must be willing to answer questions and be held accountable for their actions. This means being open and honest with stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, and customers, about the reasoning behind important decisions. I’ve written about this here.
Another lesson is the need for a robust ethics program that includes regular training and guidance for employees. This program should outline the company’s values and principles and provide clear guidelines for behavior. Additionally, a culture of ethical behavior should be fostered and encouraged from the top down, with leaders setting the example for the rest of the organization. If the big boss accepts expensive gifts from suppliers, what message does it send to the rest of the organization?
Finally, the importance of an independent oversight body cannot be overstated. In the case of the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Committee provides a check on the actions of the court and its justices. In a corporate setting, this could take the form of an independent board of directors or a separate ethics committee. Such a body can provide impartial oversight and ensure that ethical lapses are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
Overall, the news of Justice Roberts’ testimony underscores the importance of accountability, transparency, and ethical behavior in positions of power. These lessons are equally applicable in a corporate setting and should serve as a reminder to companies to prioritize these values in their decision-making processes.
If your boss doesn’t seem to care about your timely completion of online ethics education, it’s probably because her boss doesn’t care about it.
And if her boss doesn’t care about it, it’s probably because her boss doesn’t care about it either. And so on, all the way to the CEO.
Ethics & Compliance Officers can try to convince everyone that ethics education is important, or they can focus on the CEO.
A Girl Scout saw a contradiction between her pledge to make the world a better place and her task of selling cookies.
Girl Scout cookies contain palm oil, which has been linked to child labor and climate change. From her perspective, selling these cookies couldn’t possibly make the world a better place, so she decided to make and sell her own palm-oil-free cookies (and give the profits to her local troop).
If your organization asked you to engage in activities that contradicted its values, how would you respond?
Are you an employee who had a positive experience with your ethics & compliance department lately?
If so, share your experience with others. You can discuss it at the next staff meeting, or write a blurb in the company’s newsletter, or even post about it on your company’s internal social media platform.
There is someone out there hesitating to speak up, and your sharing might be what convinces them to ask for help.
Today, create a 5-minute meeting in your calendar.
Make it a recurring meeting at 4:55 PM every workday. You are meeting only with yourself.
For 5 minutes, reflect on the day and ask: “What could we do differently to improve our culture?”
Chances are, you won’t find an answer to that question. It’s not the point of the meeting. The point of the meeting is to build a habit of asking that question.
Within a few weeks, you will start noticing, in the middle of the day, things that you could do better. You will know that you have time at the end of the day to reflect on them. A few more weeks and you won’t need the meeting at all. You will have become the type of person who effortlessly notices ways to improve your workplace culture.
“Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.”
That’s a phrase my CEO repeats regularly at town hall meetings. It compresses our code of conduct and our policies into a neat reminder that we seek always to do the right thing.
The problem with compressions is that they are low fidelity. “Don’t lie” doesn’t tell an employee what to say or who to ask for help. The high fidelity recording is the actual policy.
So, of course, we need both.
Hat tip to Seth Godin.