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.

The Ethics Strategy: AMA

Those who have enjoyed the exchanges on ethics and strategy may want to look at the unified piece in the American Management Association’s “Playbook.” It is available at

In an Ethics Crisis Find the Root Cause

In an ethics crisis, it is not enough to know what happened; you need to know why it happened. Most organizations can survive a single ethics crisis. But if the same conduct is repeated, even if by different individuals, this will fix the negative impression of the organization in cement. Organizations tend to want to keep changes to a minimum, as big changes seem to be a further admission of culpability. But you need to be sure that you have changed personnel and systems sufficiently that the same conduct does not recur.

Publications of Interest

I have found two recent publications that may be of interest. The first is on ethics and business success and pretty much follows the discussion here. It can be read at The second is on a new topic which is how to build ethics into a start-up. This one is by Martin Zwilling and can be read at Enjoy and comments are always welcome.

In an Ethics Crisis Assume the Government Will Be Involved

When an organization does something viewed as unethical, the public wants someone to do something about it. And that someone is likely to be “the government.” Most organizations are open to some level of government oversight. When the government comes knocking, you can expect to hand over most everything you know about the crisis. Why? Even though some of the material may be covered by legal privilege, the government will find you uncooperative if you “hide” information. Your reasoning about the crisis needs be premised on when the government finds out rather than whether the government finds out.

In an Ethics Crisis Consider the Impact on Your Employees

A big risk in an ethics crisis is that your own employees will conclude that unethical conduct is the norm in the organization or at its highest levels, and adjust their behavior accordingly. In an ethics crisis, employees often learn about the crisis from the media. Organizations tend not to communicate openly with their employees about such matters, leaving employees to believe what others are saying. You risk an unplanned change in corporate culture unless you credibly communicate the organization’s position to its employees.

Hurdles for Compliance Officers

You may enjoy the attached article from the Report on Medicare Compliance on some of the practical issues that compliance officers face.