Must you comply?

After 15 years in ethics & compliance, I love to hear a story of bad behavior that I’ve never head before.

I know it sounds weird. Clearly, I’m not rooting for the bad guy. It’s just that when you’ve heard a thousand stories about stealing from the petty cash or failing to disclose a conflict of interest, anything new… well… spices up your day.

So I was tickled a couple of weeks ago when a colleague from a different company told me about a case she was investigating. It turns out that a manager at a small, remote location, wrote a fake policy manual to help him accomplish his evil plan. He wrote a number of policies that contradicted the Big Corporate Policies and told his team that these were the new policies from Corporate. The team didn’t like the policies but they were accustomed to following the rules so they just complied.

I have to admit that this was a bit clever. Why try to convince a bunch of people to help you violate existing policies, or try to do it on you own undetected, when you can simply change the policies and steal in broad daylight?!

This story reminded me of the importance of ethics in an organization. Being ethical can sometimes mean that we have to resist unjust laws or policies. It’s not because Corporate wrote a policy that it’s automatically a good policy. If something is wrong with it, employees must speak up.

I can’t help but wonder if something like this is happening in my own organization. Have we done enough to foil such a scheme? Are we communicating enough about our real policies so that employees can recognize a fake one? Do we have reporting channels that employees feel comfortable using? Is our culture such that a manager would never dream of doing such a thing?

How about in your organization?

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