Everybody talks about ethics but it seems nobody cares about it. The “ethics” talk is all about rules: bribery, conflict of interest, financial disclosure laws, nepotism, and the rest of the litany of rules of conduct that you can be fired or prosecuted for breaking.
If you subscribe to a Google alert for “ethics” you learned today that a key aide to the governor of Illinois was fined $500 and forced to resign for sending a campaign email on his state-issued cell phone. Or that the former Massachusetts State Auditor was fined $2,000 for by putting his unqualified 75-year-old cousin on the state payroll. Or that lobbyists are buying meals for Oklahoma lawmakers. That’s not about ethics, that’s about rules
Moreover, corporate ethics officers are so concerned with preventing criminal violations that they don’t have much (…any?) time for such things as the Golden Rule, arguing with the boss, or keeping one’s commitments. This became depressingly clear to me after I attended a meeting of ethics officers and academics. The meeting had focused on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for American companies to pay bribes overseas.
After the meeting I made an offer to the attendees that I thought they couldn’t refuse:
Hi, ethics friends—
Today’s ____ meeting was terrific: Anne _____’s talk was fascinating, and we paid her the highest compliment an audience can pay a speaker—we wouldn’t let her get through her powerpoints. That’s the kind of reception all speakers hope for. And the venue and food were worthy of the subject.
But I was frustrated. As fascinating as bribery and corruption are, and as important as FCPA and Sarbanes-Oxley are to all of us, they’re not ethics. Ethics is the Golden Rule, telling the truth, and other non-legal mandates. That’s my passion: ethics, to live it and to teach it. That’s what was behind the book that Mick Ukleja and I wrote, and it’s what I try to teach at the University of Redlands School of Business.
So here’s my proposal: if you (any of you) provide the audience I’ll visit your place of business and do a one-hour seminar on ethics, really ethics. A brief synopsis is attached; it will be similar to the presentation many of you heard last year at _______ University.
I’ll charge $1 for the seminar; if that’s too hard I’ll do it pro bono.
Guess how many takers I got. Pick a number between zero and one. Nope, that’s too high.
Tags: bribery, campaign email, conflict of interest, corporate ethics officers, ethics, FCPA, financial disclosure laws, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Golden Rule, Google alert, lobbyists, Massachusetts State Auditor, Mick Ukleja, nepotism, Oklahoma lawmakers, Redlands School of Business, rules of conduct, Sarbanes-Oxley