How Could Volkswagen Do Anything So Stupid?

Volkswagen is a company known for technological prowess and market innovation. This raises the question of how the company could engage in a plot as plain stupid as trying to trick emissions tests. I share my thoughts on this apparent puzzle in a recent piece that appeared in the business section of the Huffington Post. You can read it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-pastin/volkswagens-dumb-culture_b_8270264.html.

Ethics Crises

I have an article about how to address an ethics crisis, which includes most business crises, at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/mark-pastin/business-ethics-crisis-solutions_b_8096754.html.

Comments are always welcomed and answered as possible.

Pick an Ethical Employer

When you are looking for a job, how do you know if a prospective employer meets your ethical standards? This issue is addressed in the article http://tinyurl.com/qd8ggcm from the Huffington Post.

Ethics and Compliance Training

The bad news is that ethics and compliance training programs usually don’t work. The good new is that it really isn’t as hard as you may think to make it work. There is a recent article in a publication called Training on this topic. Follow the link below to read it.

http://www.trainingmag.com/ethics-training-doesn%E2%80%99t-often-work%E2%80%94-it-can

Ethics, Compliance and HR

As many of you know first hand, there has been a running battle over the years between ethics/compliance and human resources. This battle often focuses on the hotline and the idea that most hotline calls are about HR issues. But there are also battles over training, investigations, background checks – you  name it. If anyone is willing to share stories about this battle, it would be most welcome. You can comment here or contact me directly at councile@aol.com. Don’t worry I am not looking for anything to be attributed by name or organization – just some of the experiences of ethics and compliance professionals. What I write about this will eventually end up on this web site.

5 Surprising Truths about Ethics in One Place

More on Whistle Blowers and How to Manage Them

The following piece on this topic appeared in the Globe and Mail.

http://tinyurl.com/o4ex72r

Surprising Truths About Ethics #3

The profit motive is not to blame. There are as many unethical actions in government and the non-profit sector as there are in business. Even though the profit motive can drive people to get ahead no matter what, so can political and bureaucratic motives. Does anyone doubt that the drive for position, power and fame is as ethically deforming as the drive for profit? It is only when seeking profit means seeking profit at any cost that you are likely to find ethics issues. But seeking power or fame at any cost has the same consequence. This is discussed in more depth in my book, Make an Ethical Difference.

Surprising Truths about Ethics #2

Here is a second and important surprising truth about ethics:

Technology can undermine ethics. Our ethical instincts arose to help us cooperate in hunter-gatherer groups. When you did something that hurt another member of the group, you were to feel some of that hurt yourself – conscience. But these ethical instincts work best when you are forced to directly experience the consequences of your actions. Today technology enables us to do harm at a great distance and essentially anonymously. Consider the taunts and lies promulgated via social media just because they can be delivered anonymously. One reason that drone warfare worries us is that it detaches the act of killing from any experience of it. Our technological reach has outdistanced our ethical reach.

Surprising Ethical Facts

I have spent thirty years discussing ethical issues with business people, doctors, and lawyers. While you might imagine high-minded discussions of complex issues, it is more often a matter of someone trying to escape responsibility for what they already know to be wrong. In ethics, it is usually not a matter of not knowing what is right. It is a matter of doing what you know to be right. Over the next series of posts, I will share some surprising ethical facts starting with this one:

  1. Ethics is often simple. Most people who do wrong things are perfectly well aware they are doing wrong things. Yes, there are challenging ethical puzzles but they have little to do with the choices we make in our daily lives. Does anyone imagine that the individuals who knew about the life-threatening ignition switches in GM cars did not know that selling these cars was wrong? They knew perfectly well but chose not to do anything about it to protect their positions in the organization. The question is not one of knowing right from wrong; it is a question of what made the organization so sick that knowing right from wrong didn’t matter.

By the way, this is one of the surprising ethical facts that I explain in Make an Ethical Difference.