You would imagine a survey of “ethical violations” in fictional portrayals of business on television would have a lot of raw material. From the evil deeds of JR Ewing in Dallas to the compulsive roguery of George Bluth in Arrested Development, scriptwriters find it annoyingly convenient to equate the businessman with the crook.
Yet an organisation going by the rather Orwellian name of Global Compliance has missed the point. It describes breaches of its own notions of “diversity”, “equal opportunity”, and “process and policy integrity” as ethical violations. Ironically, the show that offends most against these peculiarly leftist ideas of ethics, the brilliant 30 Rock, is fronted by two actors, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, with impeccable leftist credentials.
Global Compliance must be a joyless place to work. A dynamic organisation should encourage, within broad limits, the free expression of ideas. Workplace banter is a sign of organisational strength, even – no, especially – when it is challenging or passionate. It should be part of a broader corporate culture of flexibility and openness.
Such a culture is itself ethical. Yes, ethics matter – but real ethics, not the pseudo-ethics of a Global Compliance. At this time of New Year’s Resolutions, here are the principles that should be monitored: -
1. Truth. The business world is an increasingly small place and reputation is easily lost. It may be possible to get away with lies for a little while, but not for long, and then a business career is finished for good. It is therefore good policy to be careful to speak only the truth, and certainly never be caught telling lies.
2. Financial Probity. Again, it might be tempting to fiddle a little cash here and there, but a reputation for scrupulous honesty with money is far better for business in the longer term. You might listen politely to someone boasting of over-claiming on expenses, but you would make a mental note never to employ him.
3. Loyalty. Go out of your way to look after your customers, your employees, and your suppliers, and they are more likely to go out of their way for you.
4. Courtesy. This is not the same as the notion of “respect” being pushed by the likes of Global Compliance. Old fashioned good manners were designed to make people comfortable in social situations, but the “political correctness” of Global Compliance makes everyone uncomfortable. Lead by good example, not fear.