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.
The other is Michael Volkov‘s comment on the outcome of the DOJ’s investigation at General Motors, first published in September but recirculated through LinkedIn this week.
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?