Focus, people, focus!

Joe Murphy – Compliance & Ethics Professional – September 2016


I recently read a commentary suggesting compliance and ethics people should be engaged in the issue of disproportionate CEO pay. I personally believe corporate executives are vastly overpaid and do not add enough value to justify the money they take from shareowners, but is this how we should be spending our professional time?

Similar questions also come up about things like social responsibility. Since “ethics” is in our titles, should we be out there jousting at these windmills? (And would there ever be a boundary to how far we would be going?) Should we be moving our companies “beyond the Sentencing Guidelines,” a concept I often see in the literature?

It certainly has to be fun to be at events pledging to save the world, but there is a huge mistake here, based on a wrong assumption. The wrong assumption is that the job of Compliance — fighting corporate crime and similar misconduct—is a mere formality, something we can finish by 10 a.m. each day so we can devote energy to the fun stuff. It is based on a view of standards like the Sentencing Guidelines as being a mindless checklist. But this is very wrong.

We need to face reality: Fighting corporate crime is a big, unending, challenging job. It takes all our energy and creativity to be successful. Consider this: When was the last time a week passed without a major corporate scandal? We are not talking here about difficult matters involving close calls and gray areas. Using fraudulent means to avoid emissions testing? Paying bribes overseas? Fixing prices? What is gray about these? They are crimes.

Nor can we consider our jobs finished in applying all the ideas and wisdom contained in the Sentencing Guidelines standards. As I have noted in prior posts, it often seems that compliance and ethics professionals are not getting from the Sentencing Guidelines standards all they have to offer.

Rather than declaring the battle against corporate crime won and the Sentencing Guidelines as something we should move past, I recommend we focus on the tough job at hand. If your compliance and ethics program can keep your company from committing a crime, you have accomplished an enormous step. Remember the criminal laws are there to protect the public from serious harm. It is no small task to achieve this.

We also need to remember that no one is more creative and clever than someone determined to commit a crime. For all the defenses you may have built, some clever sociopath is working diligently to find a way around them. If you are going to beat them, you need to be very clever and creative yourself.

Should you spend your time and compliance resources examining the wisdom of CEO pay and pursuing broad concepts of social responsibility? Here is my advice: Focus, people, focus. You have a very tough job in front of you, and you need to keep to your mission.

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