More About Our Live-Blog: “Ethics and the Oscars”

What’s this live blog all about?

Our focus tonight, as we watch the OSCARs, is on the little messages in the speeches, the commentary, on the carpet, and in the commercials – those little messages that can reinforce or dismantle an ethical culture.

There are theaters full of other, more learned critics of the movies. But those little messages are among the canvases on which we work.

Each of the three of us blogging tonight are lawyers; we’ve been in-house corporate counsel and compliance leaders; and we each have (or have had) our own private practice in ethics and legal compliance. In short, we like to help organizations and their employees do the right thing – and that begins with ethical leadership.

Amy Hutchens, JD, CCEP: Amy is President of CLEAResources. Previously, Amy was General Counsel of Watermark Risk Management International, a Special Assistant United States Attorney and an Air Force Judge Advocate. www.linkedin.com/in/amyhutchens

Kirsten Hotchkiss, Esq: Kirsten is Vice-President of Global Employee Relations at American Express Global Business Travel, and the founder of HotchkissLaw, LLC. Previously, she held multiple legal and compliance leadership positions for Wyndham Worldwide. www.linkedin.com/in/kirstenhotchkiss

Jason B, Meyer, JD, CCEP: Jason is President of LeadGood, LLC (which is hosting this live blog). For more than 20 years, he’s helped lead companies involved in legal and compliance education; he’s also a former Chief Legal Officer and Compliance Officer.

Our views are, as they say, our own, and not necessarily those of our respective employers and organizations.

The Oscars, and The Sting Rule of Ethical Leadership

Will the billion-plus viewers of the Oscars this year hear messages that promote a culture of ethics, or erode it?

My compliance chum Amy Hutchens and I, and others we hope, are planning to have some fun with that question as we “Live Blog” during the Oscars telecast tomorrow (Sunday, February 22). You can follow along with our observations and musings, and chip in your own, on the “LeaveGood Live!” page of this website.

As compliance pros have observed as frequently as Liam Neeson makes his voice all gravely, an institution fosters (or wrecks) its ethical culture with every statement and communication that its leadership makes. I think of this as the Sting Rule of Ethical Leadership (Every Little Thing You Do Is Culture). So when it comes to one of the central events in the American culture — the Academy Awards — what are our cultural leaders saying about ethics? Rather than add to more learned commentary about the movies themselves, our main focus will be the speeches, the jokes, bits of the Twitterverse, the commentary and the commercials (second in mass cultural importance only to the ads during the Super Bowl).

What ethics messages or miscues will we hear this year? An actor’s appeal to a moral cause with all the wrong language? A major product ad that encourages you to lie to your boss? Or just conspicuous over-consumption?

In large part, Amy and I are just going to see what comes up, and wing it. Our hope is that we can all have a little professional fun — us, and you (dear reader), if you choose to add your comments along the way. We’re going to start up at 7 PM EST and plan to keep going until the thing is over.

If you are watching the big show, I hope that you’ll bring us up on your little screen.

On Learning Objectives and Duct Tape

The other night, I watched a group of Boy Scouts plan a skit. Their Patrol had the assignment of teaching the rest of the Troop how you could make first aid supplies out of duct tape. They had the idea of doing a funny little show about a Scout falling out of an apple tree, and suddenly needing a stretcher, a splint and a sling. They threw joke lines and sight gags at each other, and put together a nice little script and demonstration.

But I noticed: at no point did one of the boys suggest that they should start their skit by saying, “At the conclusion of this skit, you will have a thorough understanding of how to manipulate industrial-strength adhesive tape for purposes of medical care.”

ducttape

 

 

Just sayin.

 

Compliance, groundskeepers, and chalk lines

Bacon Field, Hopewell, NJ. Photo by author.
Bacon Field, Hopewell, NJ. Photo by author.

This Friday night, my son’s “Babe Ruth Prep” baseball team had its first game of the Fall Ball season. So I found myself, under a clear sky, raking the infield dirt and laying down chalk for the foul lines and the batter’s box. And I had a thought:

“Even here, even now, I’m leading compliance!”

So as I raked, I wondered: is there a parallel between the Compliance Officer and the Groundskeeper?

I mean, compliance is in large part about winning while staying inside the lines. But for an organization, who paints those lines?

Government? Regulators? An industry Code? Your Code of Conduct? Sure, but not precisely. The Rules of the Game may specify that the foul line extends from the first base line and the third base line.. But it is still the compliance team that has to paint the lines precisely.

To push my metaphor way too far, compliance leadership has to decide the slope of the base path, and the tendency of slow grounders to stay in bounds or to roll foul. And to abandon the realism of my metaphor, we have to decide whether to paint the lines on our own field with a little cushion, so minor fouls don’t really cross the legal line… or paint the lines wide, to give our organizations a bigger playing field but also a bigger risk of stumbling out of bounds.

The author's first-base line left something to be desired, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.
The author’s first-base line left something to be desired, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.

But most of all, as compliance leaders we have to do the painting. The Rules may say where the foul line should be, but the players would be left to just guess what’s foul and what’s not if we didn’t draw an actual line that they can see while they are playing.  Our teammates rely on our education programs and our communications to know where the dividing line falls.

And by the way, the umpire might have checked to see where I drew the line (or he might not have), but once play began, he relied on the white line I put down in chalk. It’s a big responsibility.

Then I was aroused from this musing by the realization that the game was about to begin, and that I needed to get off the field, and get on the sidelines to help coach my players to success.

 

Play ball!

Way to go, Donna!

Kudos to my colleague and social media friend Donna Boehme, who will be one of four honorees at the 10th Annual International Compliance and Ethics Awards Dinner, at the Compliance and Ethics Institute of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), on Monday in Chicago.

Please join me in congratulating Donna, who is being most-deservedly honored “for her tireless dedication and unwavering support for the independence of the compliance and ethics profession.” If you follow Donna on Twitter (@DonnaCBoehme), you will see what I mean – and like me, you will get the value of her strong and experienced analysis.

The role of contract terms in compliance

I’m really looking forward to my upcoming presentation to the annual Compliance and Ethics Institute of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics.

The topic is: “Are Your Corporate Contract Clauses Running Offense and Defense for Your Compliance Program?”

It should be a lot of fun – seriously! Amy Hutchens and I will engage in some lively mock contract negotiations as we explore these bullet points:

  • An effective program must reach beyond the boundaries of your company; do your company’s contract clauses give your program room to operate to its fullest potential?
  • Discover how to play offense and defense with your program using contract clauses – learn about common limitations in contract clauses that could tie your hands if something goes wrong.
  • Hear how agreeing to certain contract clauses can bind your company to complying with another company’s program – and how to negotiate terms that your program can live with.

Among the common contractual issues we will use as examples are: whether to agree to follow another company’s Code of Conduct; and whether a vendor can agree to let its client dictate the terms of its bonuses and the topics in its training program.

Hope to see you there!

Speaker-PDFs_Meyer-Jason

Conan, Leno, and a Business Moral

Nice article in the Washington Post by business columnist Steven Pearlstein, asserting that NBC’s late night troubles are an analog for what’s wrong with American Business.

Among his observations:

It starts with the mind-set that puts short-term profit over long-term value creation….

Unable to come up with something new and fresh, NBC’s fallback — like so much of American business — was simply to do more of what worked, until it didn’t. …

For NBC, the decision to move Leno to an earlier time slot had nothing to do with the desires of TV viewers. Rather, it seemed like a clever solution to the problem of having promised the “Tonight Show” to O’Brien five years earlier in an effort to prevent him from jumping to a rival network. It’s a common mistake in business — letting key decisions be driven not by market demand but by the need to resolve internal conflicts. As NBC discovered, it rarely works out for the best…..

Truly great companies see themselves as part of a business ecosystem. They understand that their long-term success depends on having financially healthy suppliers and distributors, and take pains not to share gains and avoid profiting excessively at their expense. [There’s that Golden Rule thing again! – jbm]

But NBC forgot that wisdom when it decided to go for a strategy of low-budget offerings in prime time that would maintain profitability at the expense of program quality or ratings. It turned out that the new strategy posed an existential threat to the independent studios and production houses that networks still rely on to create their entertainment programming. And the smaller audiences that NBC was willing to accept for Leno’s 10 p.m. show translated into shrunken audiences for 11 p.m. news shows that generate as much as 40 percent of the revenue for local affiliates that are already reeling from the recession and competition from Internet advertising.

There are many other lessons to be drawn from NBC’s late-night debacle — on the shortcoming of industrial conglomerates (GE), on the difficulty of old dogs learning new tricks (Leno), and surely the one about sacrificing old products to launch new ones (O’Brien). You could probably construct an entire business school class around this case study in mismanagement.

Tips for leading from within

I wrote up some nitty-gritty tactics for how to “Lead Good” for the website of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) — the leading trade association for in-house lawyers. My article, “Top Ten Practical Ways to Enrich and Empower Your Compliance Program,” is the ACC’s featured “Top Ten” article of the month.

The sub-text for my recommended methods: Don’t just administer. Be pro-active. Be creative. Lead.