My Top 5 Ethics and Compliance Influencers for 2020

Every workday, I aim to write a post on this blog.

My process is simple. I read, then I write. I read about current events and I read what others have written on ethics and compliance.

The world’s news often offers a good idea for a post. When that fails, I can rely on other writers for inspiration, people who think deeply about what it means to be human, to fail and to strive always to do better.

This post will highlight 4 individuals and one organization who most inspired my writing this year. Of course, there are many others, too many to list here. But these 5 were with me all year as we all tried to navigate an uncomfortable world.

I encourage you to follow them*.

Richard Bistrong. Before becoming an advisor on corruption risks, Richard was an international sales executive. At some point along the way, he stepped on the proverbial slippery slope and was eventually sentenced to federal prison for corruption. Richard doesn’t blame anyone for the choices he made. By sharing his story (in person and online), Richard helps others identify and avoid risky situations. He teaches by being transparent and vulnerable.

Carsten Tams. Carsten doesn’t blog just anywhere; his posts are featured on two separate blogs of Forbes Magazine. After over 15 years in various roles linked to ethics and culture in a global media company, Carsten now helps clients solve organizational challenges by using the latest findings of behavioral science. He reads broadly, thinks deeply and write clearly.

The Ethics & Compliance Initiative. This organization is dedicated to helping its members create and sustain high-quality ethics and compliance programs**. It does so by providing research that doesn’t aim to sell you a product or a service, but rather helps you understand what truly drives behavior in an organization. With its daily email briefings, monthly stats and annual surveys, the ECI helps me bring value to both my organization and my readers.

Ricardo Pellafone. Ricardo changed how I look at compliance training. I now understand the difference between risk-based training – the kind that’s great for lawyers – and task-based training – the kind that’s perfect for employees trying their darn best to do their job compliantly without having to spend eons learning about compliance. Ricardo and his team at Broadcat write sharp, no-nonsense posts on their blog, often spiked with funny GIFs and videos.

Seth Godin. Seth is not an E&C professional. He is a writer and a marketer. A marketer is not the same as an advertiser; advertisers try to make you buy stuff. Seth tries to make you see the world as it is and urges you to make a difference. He does so with short, daily blog posts (he hasn’t missed a day in over 10 years). Seth often write about the importance of trust in business, which often inspires my writing.


* As with all posts, my views are not expressed on behalf of or at the request of my employer.

** Full disclosure: I am a board member of this organization.

The second rule of the game

In today’s post, Seth Godin reminds us that the first rule of any game should be “All players must agree to not cheat.”

It’s a metaphor for workers, companies, governments and regulators. When only one of them cheats, the others can often contain the damage. When all of them cheat (think 737 MAX), you get a human catastrophe.

Thus, the second rule of the game should be “If a player cheats, no other player will tolerate it.”

Advice to graduates

In his post today, Seth Godin makes us see that there are different kinds of imaginations.

People dream of sinking a hole-in-one (sport imagination) or becoming a millionaire (wealth imagination) or becoming lean and strong (health imagination). These imaginations are fueled by our current culture and stoked by the media.

How many people instead have moral imagination, fueled by a desire to make things better? Plenty of people, it turns out. But most work for organizations that are driven by the profit imagination, and the organization’s dreams usually win.

For those about to graduate and enter this turbulent workplace, I offer this advice: join an organization whose imagination aligns with yours.

What are you after?

This post on semiotics by Seth Godin got me thinking.

Can a business leader increase her social standing by being ethical?

Will her ethical behavior increase her sense of belonging with an important group?

If so, what flags, signals or other communications should she use to convey her status?

And if she does all of these things well, will it be enough for her?

Would it be for you?

Find the others

Seth Godin often encourages us to “find the others.”

If we want to do something significant, we can rarely do it on our own. Changing the culture at work, for example, is not something that any single individual can do on her own, not even if she’s the CEO.

We need to find the others. Not just a supporting boss, but others in different departments, functions, countries and companies. We need to share a clear vision* and mission with others and welcome those with whom it resonates.

How many do we need? As long as the change we seek is yet to be, we need more.


* I define vision as “what the world will look like when the mission is accomplished.”

The reputation opportunity

In The End of Reputation, Seth Godin offers examples of new types of fraud and explains how they erode trust.

Of course, fraud itself is not new. In the markets of 1,000 years ago, merchants used rigged scales and weights to defraud their customers. It was difficult to uncover the fraud back then, as it is today. Once uncovered, the merchant lost his reputation, as he does today.

A bad reputation destroys trust, which is the currency of business. No one wants to do business with someone they don’t trust. In a low-trust industry, buyers flock to the one who restores trust. This is why people left taxis for Uber, and then Uber for Lyft.

There has never been a better time to work on your reputation.

Tribal bonds

I recently returned from the latest ECI Fellows meeting, which focused on behavioral ethics. This post is part of a series where I share my insights and lessons from the meeting.


There is a story about a United States Marine who halted a fellow soldier about to commit a war crime by saying “Stop! This is not what Marines do.”

The Marine didn’t pull out a copy of the Geneva Conventions and point to a specific article prohibiting the conduct. He simply explained that “people like us don’t do things like this.”

It’s tempting to point to the law when we want people to do or not do something. But no one likes to be told what to do. We’d rather feel in control. At the same time, we want to belong, we want to be part of a group where “people like us do things like this.”

Consider this the next time you write a policy or create a training or implement a control. Are you pointing to a force external to the group (like a law) or are you drawing on a tribal bond? One is stronger than the other.

Ethical debates

We know that it’s way better for employees to hear about ethics & compliance from their business leader than from their ECO.

And do you know what’s even better than that? Two or more business leaders debating an ethical issue in front of the employees, each arguing in favor of a different path or outcome.

In a healthy culture, these debates happen daily.

When’s your next ethical debate?


HT to Seth Godin

The best time to start changing your culture

Yesterday I attended a meeting about corporate culture and, more specifically, about employee empowerment.

Midway through the meeting, the leader mentioned that culture doesn’t change overnight. He used the apt expression “It takes time to turn a ship around.”

Looking at him speak to only two dozen employees in a company of over 40,000, I knew he wasn’t using the expression as a platitude. This was his third meeting on the topic, with a plan to have many more. A few employees at a time. Drip by drip. Helping turn the ship around.

As Seth Godin says, the long run is made up of a bunch of short runs. Which means that the short runs truly matter. None of them alone will change the whole thing but without all of them the change doesn’t happen.

The best time to start changing your culture was 10 years ago. The second best time is today.