Keep it fresh

If a business keeps selling the exact same product or service for 10 years (think Blockbuster), chances are that a competitor with a fresh offering will displace it.

Support functions in a business (like HR, finance, and ethics & compliance) don’t have the same competition. So many of them to the exact same thing, over and over again. Same onboarding, same reports, same training – while the world is changing.

Eventually this creates a drag on the business, giving an edge to competitors with better support functions. If we don’t recognize where that edge comes from, we will simply ask the sales force to “sell harder”. That pressure is likely to lead to wrongdoing (remember the fraud triangle?), which must be addressed by – you guessed it: stale support functions. Talk about a vicious cycle.

Never lose sight that changes in the marketplace impact more than your products and services; they also impact vital support functions like ethics & compliance.

Keep it fresh.

HT to Seth Godin

The appearance thereof

A good conflict of interest policy should seek to eliminate not only actual conflicts but also the appearance thereof.

This is what the US Congress is trying to do by banning members from trading individual stocks. It is not enough to review a trade after it has been made because, in many cases, the trade was made after a member received information from a classified briefing.

Take a look at your conflict policies, gift policies, even your anti-corruption policies. Are they filled with detailed prescriptions about who-can-receive-what-from-whom-and-under-what-amount? If so, it could be a sign that the activities you are trying to regulate might simply need to be prohibited.

Is an unethical situation at work keeping you hostage?

The rabbi who helped his congregants escape the hostage standoff in Texas a few days ago credited the security training he received for keeping everyone alive.

When we practice something in advance, we can think more clearly when facing the real situation. We can also act more quickly. This is why military personnel, firefighters, and other first responders use most of their spare time to practice over and over again.

In corporate ethics, we can do the same thing. We can practice, in advance, how to respond to ethical dilemmas. Perhaps the best training in this area comes from Mary Gentile with her book Giving Voice to Values. Gentile starts with the assumption that most of us know the difference between right and wrong. What we need, she says, is to practice, in advance, how we would respond if we were asked to lie, cheat or steal – or if we observed someone else doing these things. If properly trained, we are more likely to respond in a way that will keep us and the company safe when the real thing happens.

Don’t wait to be “held hostage” by an unethical situation at work before you learn how to escape it.

Time to bend the arc

The post below was originally published on January 16, 2017

A century before Martin Luther King’s “Where do we go from here?” speech of August 1967, Theodore Parker said the following:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

The arc doesn’t bend on its own. The bend is created by the courageous and persistent work of a minority, who possesses a moral imagination capable of seeing a future world that is better than today’s.

And so do we all have a responsibility to see the injustice about us, and to work towards its elimination, even if we never enjoy the fruits of our labor.

You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to evade it. — Rabbi Tarfon

Millions of you

Each year, colleges and universities produce millions of graduates.

If you are one of those graduates in 2022, you probably want to work for a company that makes the world a better place. It’s a distinguishing trait of those born in the late ’90s.

The New Humanitarian identified the top 10 global crises to watch in 2022. Each represents an opportunity to do work that can make the world a better place.

You alone can’t solve all of these crises.

But the millions of you can.

Time for E&C career paths

Not too long ago, the ethics and compliance profession did not exist.

Then, when the first E&C professionals were appointed in corporations, they often worked alone or in very small groups.

Today, it is common for big corporations to have large networks of E&C professionals. Many business schools and law school offer compliance degrees. There are professional associations offering certifications.

So now we have young people graduating with compliance certificates, becoming members of ECI, joining the E&C department of a multinational, and, after a few years, looking for advancement.

What most of them find is that companies have not yet created career paths for E&C professionals. They see their friends in finance, HR, and legal participate in rotation programs that lead to promotions – while they stay in place. Eventually, their path to growth leads them to join another organization.

Our profession is still young but the time has come for organizations to create internal career paths.

Good communications

The CDC is being criticized for holding only two briefings in 2021.

That criticism is justified. In a crisis, uncertainty adds fuel to the fire. Frequent, accurate and practical information from the authorities can keep things under control.

At my company, in the early days of the pandemic, I noticed an important change. My leadership not only increased the frequency of its communications but also the quality. They not only increased the amount of technical support (for remote work) but also of emotional support (for all employees). Significantly, that effort hasn’t let up yet.

Whether it’s a pandemic or a new gift policy, a change from what was normal requires good communication.

What change are you about to experience at work in the coming weeks? How well will you communicate it?

Clarity and compliance

Some members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are proposing to change the Electoral Count Act of 1887.

They assert, rightly so, that the law is poorly written and behind the times. More importantly, they believe it played a key role in the insurrection of 2021 by poorly defining the role of the Vice-President.

Do you have a policy at work that is difficult to understand? Perhaps it was written by lawyers for lawyers, instead of being written in plain English for employees? Maybe you have an “email policy” that hasn’t been updated to account for mobile devices and social media, leaving new and young employees perplexed?

Such policies create uncertainty. At best, this uncertainty creates a drag on your operations (people avoid doing things they should do for fear of getting in trouble). At worst, they protect wrongdoers who can claim that they didn’t understand the policy (we’ve all seen this).

Like laws, corporate policies are intended to be followed. Let’s write them accordingly.

Happy birthday

Is it ethical to use company funds to celebrate an employee’s birthday?

If you own a small restaurant with 3 employees, and serve them a free meal as a birthday gift, there’s nothing wrong with that.

What if your company counts 200,000 employees and is publicly traded? If you spend only $10 per employee, that’s a $2M expense every year. Is that a good use of the shareholder’s money?

What if your customers are mostly government entities? Your revenue is actually tax revenue. Is that a good use of taxpayer’s money?

What if you don’t stop at birthdays but also celebrate births, weddings and funerals? How big should an “employee morale” budget line be?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.


In a misguided effort to encourage unvaccinated citizens to get a shot, the French President just insulted 13 million of his voters. By doing so, he probably further entrenched the recalcitrants.

Perhaps you work for a company where some employees still refuse to get vaccinated. While it is your duty to try to change their mind (you could literally be saving lives), you must do it with compassion, not contempt.

Once contempt infiltrates a relationship, that relationship is doomed.