From awkward to organic

“I don’t really know how to talk about business ethics to my team.”

This is a phrase that many ethics and compliance professionals have heard from front-line supervisors.

They are afraid of sounding preachy. Or of not knowing the answers. Or looking soft.

If you are one of these supervisors, here’s an easy way to start:

  • Look for a recent ethical breach or scandal reported in the news.
  • Gather your team and ask:
    • Could this happen here? (hint: the answer is usually yes)
    • If so, what would it look like (in this industry, this company, this department, this team)?
    • How could we prevent it from happening?
    • If we could not prevent it, how would we respond to it?

It’s a safe conversation because it didn’t happen to you (yet). Right now, it’s someone else’s problem. But it’s a real problem, not some hypothetical in an online course. And you are not pretending to know the answer – you are asking your team for their ideas on how to protect the company.

Do this on a regular basis, until it becomes comfortable and expected.

Then, like magic, you won’t need to initiate these conversations. Your team will bring them up on their own.

What voice is loudest?

It should have been a straightforward decision.

When the emergency brake on the cable car kept engaging for no good reason, the operator should have closed and fixed the funicular.

Instead, a technician decided to deactivate the emergency brake. The funicular had just reopened after several months of closure because of COVID. There were hundreds of tourists hoping to enjoy the ride up from Lake Maggiore. There was money to be made.

The cable snapped and, without its emergency brake, the car reeled backwards before crashing to the ground and killing 14 people.

We don’t yet know all the facts. But we know that the technician considered the pros and cons of his decision before making it. His mental chatter took into account the tourists wanting to ride, the operator needing revenue, the fact that everyone was looking to him to put the car back into service.

As he heard all these voices, did he also hear the voice of the operator saying that safety was paramount? A voice saying that a few thousands euros wasn’t worth a single loss of life, or even minor injuries, or simply the risk thereof? If he didn’t hear those voices, then why? Was it because this message was never conveyed to him? Or was it conveyed but unconvincingly? Or was the message contradicted by so many others clamoring for efficiency and profit?

What is the loudest voice in your employees’ heads?

Is it one of safety and ethics?

Being a helper

In the early days of the pandemic, a medical student working for a health literacy program noticed that many of her clients didn’t have access to easy-to-understand COVID information because they didn’t speak English.

So she reached out to fellow multilingual students and created 19 COVID fact sheets in 40 languages. These fact sheets have now been downloaded 250,000 times in more than 150 countries. Not bad for a working medical student, who surely has less free time than most of us.

When I read stories such as these, I wonder what else we could accomplish if we simply took ownership. There are so many needs in this world, if we only pay attention. A quick glance at our local newspaper could identify such a need. We could then find others willing to help. There are helpers everywhere.

Let’s be one of them.

What is compliance training for?

90% of your employees completed your online training.

80% of them thought the concepts were clear.

70% thought its length was just right.

60% understood the link to your corporate values.

50% said they learned something new.

40% agreed that it was related to their job.

30% would recommend it to a colleague.

20% thought it would help them be more compliant in the future.

Of the above, what metric do you track?

Of those, which ones do you share with your board?

If 90% of our employees do the training but only 20% think it is helpful, are we doing our job?

Keep your thoughts in check

According to several studies, we have over 6,000 thoughts every day.

Eighty percent of them are negative, and 95% of them are repetitive.

Let that sink in. Ninety-five percent of the thoughts you will have today are thoughts you had yesterday, and the vast majority will be negative.

It sheds new light on the expression “How you handle any day is how you handle every day.” Or this other one: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

I can’t think of a better proof that we are creatures of habit, and that good habits matter. As Will Durant wrote when discussing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The ethical leader will be aware of her propensity to have negative thoughts over and over again. She will be aware of this tendency in others. She will work to replace those thoughts with more positive ones, in herself and in others. More importantly, she will not tolerate a single instance of bad behavior, knowing that actions follow thoughts, and are thus likely to be repeated the next day if unaddressed.

Fear and anger (#2)

What is the root cause of verbal violence?

What is the root cause of physical violence?

What is the root cause of gun violence?

It’s not words, fists and guns.

Anger and fear are more likely culprits.

Look for anger and fear within yourself. Look for it in others.

Work to soothe it.

Every vaccination counts

After reading how Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to vaccinations centers, I decided to do a little research.

It turns out that in exchange for getting a shot, you can get a Krispy Kreme donut (yum!), a Bud (but only for 3 more days), and a White Castle dessert (on a stick), among many other incentives.

(Yes, I does look like one could pack a few pounds after getting vaccinated.)

My own company has manufactured PPE, and is now offering space – a decommissioned airport runway, actually – as a drive-through vaccination site.

How could your company help people get vaccinated?

Look, learn, share

I stared at a blank screen, and searched for a writing idea, for nearly 20 minutes before writing these words.

I got in this situation because, yesterday, I didn’t convince myself that I had something to learn.

Had I done that, had I looked everywhere for a learning, I would have found one.

And then I would’ve had something to share on this page.

It starts with a desire to learn.

What will you learn today?


It had to happen sooner or later.

A man selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards has been arrested in the US.

For $20, unvaccinated covidiots will soon be granted access to concert halls, cruise ships, sports stadiums and other public spaces by showing fake cards.

I rarely wish shame on others but I’m willing to make an exception here.

Are you sure you want to send that?

Twitter recently added a feature that detects mean language and forces you to pause before sending.

Could a similar feature be useful for work email?

As of today, on the ethics side, we “detect” mean emails only after employees complain of receiving them. On the compliance side, in the world of data loss “prevention”, our tools only alert us to possible data losses after an email has been sent. Why not review the content of the email before it is actually sent, and give the author a chance to reconsider? Of course, there are privacy issues at play, but we can probably build a system where no human sees the email before it is actually sent.

Before the pandemic, if we were unsure about the language or the tone of an email, we could ask a nearby colleague in the office to review it before we hit “send”. With more people working remotely, perhaps a virtual Jiminy Cricket could save us from a few blunders, or worse?