If you are reading this article, the answer is simple...YOU ARE!
In the past, Corporate America was looked upon to have a greater involvement in the well being of the community. This was all part of the social responsibility movement of that time which was based on moral principals. Little did we know then that the activities of a few organizations e.g. Enron, Tyco, and World Com, would bring to bear on us not just the personal responsibility to do the right thing, but to have our every move monitored by 3, 4, and 5 letter organizations (SEC, IRS, ERISA) not to mention the impact of the 409(A) legislation and the phenom created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Most of the legislation provides guidelines for the behavior of an organization. The question then still remains to be answered by the individual...What am I to do? The establishment of an ethical business culture within an organization cannot merely be legislated, nor can it be established from the top down or the bottoms up. It is not solely the responsibility of the Board of Directors or a corporation's CEO. It must have life breathed into it by each one of us.
So what does one do when something does not appear to be right? REPORT IT...Tell your supervisor; tell someone of authority. The honor code is instilled in students at many of our finer academic institution and service academies. If we want our next generation of leaders to practice that behavior, why shouldn't we?
While reporting a potentially unethical situation is not a bad starting point for all of us, we can not disregard the pressure of potential retaliation by the organization. We all have seen examples of this in the Tobacco, Oil, Airline and Technology Industries. And even as Tony Soprano would say, "Don't be a rat." Well get over it and do the right thing or, before long, the external control of our every move and decision will be legislated, as was the Whistle Blower Statute, and eventually grind us to an organizational halt.
As this brief article is intended to highlight the question of ethical responsibility, it should be noted that a great starting point exists for each of us within Corporate America. That is to embrace a Standards of Conduct Policy that includes a Conflict of Interest disclosure program. These programs are strictly voluntary and are developed and implemented by the Company. They are designed to provide an opportunity for an individual to disclose their own potential conflicts of interest as opposed to reporting the malfeasance of the Company or that of another. If your company does not have one, a wonderful opportunity exists for you to take a leadership role in installing one.
As part of a corporate driven program, the completion of a well crafted conflict of interest form, by an inventory of appropriately included employees, provides the perfect opportunity for an individual to report a potential conflict regarding him or herself. All conflicts are not inherently bad. Once disclosed, it is up to an organization's reviewing committee to decide whether or not the behavior can continue and that decision is then communicated back to the employee for appropriate action...cessation, modification or approved continuation.
After all, whether the question is about your own behavior and interests or that of another that you have observed...REPORT IT! The reporting vehicle, be it legislated or voluntary, matters not. By doing so, the organization, its employees and the business community in general will prosper and the moral compass that guides us all will be true. The responsibility for establishing an ethical business culture rests with each of us.
Many wonderful books have been published on this subject. Should you like to receive a list of a few of them, email your request to me at email@example.com.