Posts Tagged ‘Enron’

Penn State: do the sanctions punish the innocent?

July 24, 2012

 

The ESPN telecast showed student reaction (photo) on a split screen as NCAA President Mark Emmert ticked off one harsh penalty after another against Penn State’s football team. Clearly these horrified Penn State students were being punished for the sins of the formerly sainted coach, the university president, and other senior members of the administration. Their future autumn Saturdays, their social lives, and their pride in their university were being stripped from them.

Accountability for wrongdoing often brings down the innocent along with the guilty. Think about the workers at Enron, Arthur Anderson, or MCI-Worldcom, who lost their jobs when their bosses’ malfeasance destroyed their companies. Or think about innocent children of illegal immigrants who are wrenched away from their world when their parents are deported.

Is it all right to punish the innocent? First, there is no way of punishing the guilty without harming people close to, or dependent on them. Even a mass murderer–when he is sent away his mother suffers along with him. When Al Qaeda militants are killed, their family members often die with them.

Still we mustn’t be blasé about collateral damage to innocents. It was painful to watch the students as their innocent college years were stripped of top-quality football. But in a sense they’re not innocent. They share a nation-wide belief that football is more (more…)

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A wallet-sized code of ethics

May 11, 2010

There’s something about bureaucracy that violates my sense of ethics. Bureaucracy represses one’s humanity. Humans want to make a difference in their lives, but bureaucracy forces conformity and sameness. One definition in the American Heritage Dictionary is “an administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action.”

The bureaucratic system is founded on rules, supervision and enforcement by specialists and inspectors to make sure workers follow the rules, even when the rules deviate from common sense.

We need to move beyond it, but moving beyond it means shifting to a different form of control, one based on a strong sense of mission and a culture of trust, with authority and responsibility shifted from the few at the top to the many front-line workers.

This shift also requires that the organization have a strong ethical grounding. Ethics must replace the missing rules, but in many organizations what passes for ethics is merely another set of rules to comply with, and ethics training usually consists of badgering workers about bribery, conflict of interest and favoritism.

Enron had a nice 65-page code of ethics. The International City/County Management Association has a pretty good code of ethics except that it’s 2000 words long, has a 3200-word supplementary “Rules of Procedure for Enforcement,” and is written by lawyers or at least by people who have mastered esoteric, lawyerly writing. Most people can’t live by the ICMA code because they simply can’t remember any of it. (more…)

When in doubt about what’s ethical, ask your daughter or son. Hillary asked Chelsea

March 23, 2010

Hillary Clinton promised the voters of New York state in 2000 that if elected she would serve a full term. But by 2003, with George W. Bush’s popularity falling he appeared beatable, if the Democrats nominated the right person. Most of the Democratic political heavyweights thought the right person was Hillary.

Should she or shouldn’t she? She summoned all her inner circle—husband Bill, daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend, and four veterans of the Clinton White House—to one final meeting at the Clinton home in Westchester County. Game Change, the dishy story about the 2008 election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, tells what happened.

“One by one, Hillary polled the group, listening carefully to what each of them had to say. [All told her she should run, but] there was one dissenter in the room. Chelsea believed that her mother had to finish her term, that she’d made a promise (more…)