If you are watching the “Big Game” Sunday Feb. 7 (or the “Big Pre-Game” or the “Big Post-Game”), and a pithy thought pops into your head about ethics, or compliance, or business leadership and culture, please join me in using the hashtag #SB50Ethics. And if you just want to see what E&C oriented folk are thinking, then follow #SB50Ethics.
No pressure. It’s not a live-blog, something happening every 30 seconds, must write thing. Just thought I’d suggest a single social media home for our collective musings, however casually they are offered.
Will we really be thinking about ethics between the wings, beer, and commercials, you ask? Oh, yeah.
I wrote last month about concerns that the Justice Department may have gotten off to the wrong foot, tone-wise, following its “Yates Memo” declaration that it intended to prosecute individuals within companies for their organization’s wrongdoing.
But, as Mike Volkov so well summarizes, the top enforcer on this playing field quickly found a case with which to make its point. On October 29th, the DOJ announced a $125 Million criminal settlement with pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott (once Galen, now Actavis). In the same breath, Justice also announced criminal charges against four company employees — including the company’s former president. According to the release, several other employees have already pled guilty or been indicted on criminal charges. The cases arise from Warner Chilcott’s payment of kickbacks to physicians to induce them to prescribe its drugs.
“Pharmaceutical company executives and employees should not be involved with treatment decisions or submissions to a patient’s insurance company. Today’s enforcement actions demonstrate that the government will seek not only to hold companies accountable, but will identify and charge corporate officials responsible for the fraud.”
Interesting, and not surprising, that Justice struck this blow in the healthcare industry. Pharma and Medical Technology have been the industries on the bleeding edge of enforcement (and internal compliance efforts) since the 90’s (at least).
In commenting on my earlier post about the tone being struck by the DOJ, Scott Killingsworth pointed out that “the DOJ will tell you what they are going to do, and then by golly they will do it.” I agreed, and I speculated that the Department must be “itching” to prosecute some company executives. Not that it took much in the way of powers of prediction, but it looks like we were right. Executives and companies who ignore the Yates Memo do so at their peril.
As compliance professionals and leadership counselors, we focus on “tone at the top.” What the C-Suite says is critical to establishing an ethical culture in an organization. What is even more important to foster that culture is whether top executives speak and act consistently. We advise our leaders that even one act of apparent hypocrisy, or of “looking the other way,” can undo a lot of cover-letters-with-Codes-of-Conduct.
With this perspective, I commend to you two recent blog posts by fellow compliance lawyers, about the tone coming from the very top, compliance wise: the Department of Justice.
One is Mike Scher’s post this week in the FCPA Blog about the DOJ’s findings that downplay the alleged corruption violations by WalMart in Mexico.
At the SCCE’s annual Compliance and Ethics Institute earlier this month, I perceived a consensus of approval among the compliance community for the DOJ’s September 9th “Yates Memo,” in which Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillan Yates sought to send a strong message that the DOJ would henceforth be eager to prosecute culpable individuals for wrong-doing within the corporations they lead. There were many concerns (see this and this), yet the general thought seemed to be that the tone set by the Yates Memo would reinforce our efforts to get buy-in within our companies.
But Mike Volkov raises this concern: with the GM case (as now with WalMart), do the DOJ’s actions speak louder, tone-wise, than Yates’ words?
Last Sunday, three of us compliance lawyer types had ourselves a virtual Oscar Party.
We three – Amy Hutchens (CCEP), President of CLEAResources; Kirsten Hotchkiss, now an employment and employee relations counsel with American Express Global Business Travel, and I (President of LeadGood, and also CCEP)– conducted an experiment with the following hypothesis:
IF the leaders of an institution, through their every message and action, set a “tone from the top” that either fosters or undermines the ethical culture of that institution; and
IF the culture of our nation – an institution we all share — is in part determined in those rare events that a large proportion of the population share in-common;
THEN an ethical “tone at the top” will be set by the cultural stars and leaders who speak and act during the massively multi-person annual event that is the Academy Awards.
Amy, Kirsten and I made that hypothesis the topic of a “live-blog” that we conducted Oscar-night on my company’s website. We watched the Oscars along with everyone else, and reacted in real time to those things that compliance lawyer types notice. (You can still read our stream of observations and musings here.)
Our hunch going in was that we might hear a few moments of ethical leadership, and maybe a few ethical gaffes, among the presenters, red carpets types, and the commercials of the Oscar telecast. To our surprise, we (along with the rest of the billion-plus viewership) wound up hearing an almost continual series of stars speaking out forcefully and fervently for noble causes that should command our attention. Just in the acceptance speeches, we heard advocacy for:
Gender Equality (Best Supporting Actress)
A.L.S. (Best Actor)
Alzheimer’s (Best Actress)
Whistleblowers (Best Documentary Feature)
Teen Suicide Prevention (Best Adapted Screenplay)
Returning Veterans (Sound Editing)
Civil Rights (Best Song)
Immigrants’ Rights (Best Picture)
Calling Your Parents (Best Supporting Actor)
As the New York Times put it, “Oscar nights usually do have their share of political posturing, but this was a particularly passionate evening. “
But there was a tone from the top, and it was this: “Speak Out for your Beliefs! Take Action to Help Others!” It was Corporate Social Responsibility Night at the Movies. Hooray for Hollywood!
Seriously, Oscars 2015 was a big-time, highly public, star-studded endorsement of a speak-up culture. (Even the Lego Movie’s brainwash-the-citizenry song, “Everything is Awesome,” lost.)
But on reflection, I wonder if all those appeals blurred together, and if any of them still stand out in the memory of most viewers. It was almost as if the message was, “Everyone has their own cause – so any cause is right.” Having heard so many appeals for action, viewers may have felt ironically unmotivated to action.
So I ask: Was the experience of the Oscar viewer on Sunday that different than the experience of our employees, in this time of the multi-modal, socially savvy, short-message-oriented, compliance communications program? I happen to love the practice of delivering compliance information in shorter bursts at higher frequencies, of “social learning streams” and the like. If we’re not careful, though, does it sound like this?
Don’t discriminate! (HR).
Wear safety glasses! (EH&S).
No gratuities! (Commercial Compliance).
Donate! (United Way).
Protect our Trade Secrets! (General Counsel).
Protect our Company Data! (IT).
Follow our Code! (CCO).
If our quick compliance hits seem a blur, then the Oscars may have offered two lessons for our programs.
First, Focus. Too many emotional appeals may leave me numb. Too many instructions at once may strain my memory. If everything is important, nothing is important. (Maybe those programs that stress a theme-of-the-month have the right idea.)
Second: don’t just send a message; tell the story. “Still Alice” had a compelling message about Alzheimer’s, and “American Sniper” about veterans and war, because of the power of their storytelling. The movies had the time, and craft, and humanity to make a social issue real. By contrast, the short plugs in the acceptance speeches at the Oscars were only reminders: they returned an issue to the front of mind, and reminded us of something we care about. That is an excellent thing to do in the short nuggets we have added to our compliance messaging.
But the power behind those messages originates in good old-fashioned storytelling. And even in this social age, it is the story that provides the inspiration to act.
Hooray for Hollywood!
P.S. Since our little experiment worked, we’ve resolved to do our “Ethics and the Oscars” live blog again next year. Hope you can join us!
(Note: A version of this post also appears on LinkedIn.)
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.