Live from the Compliance Institute – Compliance in an ethical framework


“Most ethics programs are boring and stupid!”

Ethicist Michael Josephson certainly got the attention of the 2,500+ crowd at this morning’s general session. The best part about it – Josephson is right. Most ethics programs exist to ease the anxiety of the higher-ups, and so companies can say they’re doing something about ethics and compliance.

The truth, as Josephson laid out, is that most ethics programs don’t change anyone’s mind, and don’t do anything to prevent problems. The purpose of an ethics program is to affect behavior; if your program isn’t affecting behavior, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s how to do it right:

1. Evaluate your program

  • Does your program detect, deter, and prevent unethical conduct?
  • Are you promoting a culture of positivity, credibility, and responsibility? For those not living up to it – are you addressing those issues and  poor performance?
  • Be open to the idea that you may not always be seeing all the issues – perspective makes a difference
  • Understand that you can’t avoid ethical problems by ignoring them

2. Establish a culture of ethics

  • Be stern, ethics is not a factor to consider, it’s a ground rule
  • Define what ethics means in your organization; start with:
    • Trustworthiness
    • Respect
    • Responsibility
    • Fairness
    • Caring
    • Good citizenship
  • Let everyone know that your organization values ethical behavior, and expects it from all employees
  • Most people want to be ethical and do the right thing – teach them what that looks like for your organization
  • Operate on the understanding that there is a big difference between what you have the right to do, and what is right to do

While wrapping up, Josephson also gave some great advice on how to define ethics: Just think about the qualities you would look for if you ever got the chance to interview who would get to date and marry your children. As it turns out, those are the same qualities that make up the backbone of an ethical organization.