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fraud and bend it to their will They punish those who question them and reward those who do their bidding In the most recent example, William T Owen, a witness in the trial of former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, describes a personally close accounting team that dubbed themselves the family 1 According to Mr Owen, the family consisted of those who were in the know and booked phony profits that they called dirt at Mr Scrushy s direction Mr Owen also describes how Mr Scrushy could sell me on doing things I knew were wrong and how he could intimidate him saying over the years, people got to be careful what they said they didn t want to incur Richard s wrath 2 Failure to properly develop an ethical culture allows a malignancy to take hold in the company Those who are willing to commit fraud recruit from the corporate employee pool weak or needy personalities and go to lengths to reward and protect them A board does not want to depend on luck to uncover a fraud One could argue that uncovering the fraud at WorldCom was indeed lucky The stars seemed perfectly aligned because an accountant who knew right from wrong refused to book bogus transactions and was brave enough to tip off the internal auditor despite the participation in the fraud by those around him The tip, combined with a smart auditor s knowledge of how to build and escalate the case, resulted in the board having everything they needed to immediately remove the CFO While shareholder value was destroyed, quick action likely saved a number of jobs due to the continued viability of the business That might not have been the case if the fraud continued unabated much longer A strong ethical culture, which sets clear behavioral boundaries, effectively provides channels for reporting abuse to those who can act on the information; and strong whistleblower protections are needed to prevent or unravel the destructive culture This is not a program that can be set up in a weekend A strong culture, in which everybody participates to protect the company, can take years to build Culture is one of those soft and ill-defined subjects that is hard to grasp, let alone manage To an executive, it can feel like trying to eat Jell-O with a knife with more of a chance you will wear it before you ever experience the success of tasting it But developing a strong ethical culture can be rewarding To improve the chance of tasting triumph, a board and its executive team need to set the table
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with the appropriate tools With a proper structure, continually reinforced and monitored, conditions are in place to define the company culture Johnson & Johnson has developed and lived by its corporate credo The employees of Goldman Sachs are expected to conform to its business principles Each of these value statements has been in place for a number of years, and these companies have spent time and money defining behavioral boundaries that employees are expected to observe But then again, there are companies such as Enron They had a set of nice-sounding corporate values, but did not perform the hard work of embedding them into their organization Enron s set of corporate values listed communication, respect, integrity, and excellence as important to their company culture These ideals sound like something to which all organizations should aspire But words will not result in an effective policy if it is not clear how to apply their meaning to our daily work lives Even more important, it must be clear that the company leaders actually believe in their stated values Not too many people would use the word integrity to describe Enron s management It is clear to all that Enron s managers either could not, or did not, care to enforce this value A fuzzy or vacant set of values is not just neutral, but destructive Employees can spot insincerity in the executive ranks all the way from the mailroom, and will inevitably make a company pay for it In order for governance systems to work, employees, vendors, stockholders, and other stakeholders have to believe that management wants to do the right thing Otherwise, the hotlines will remain silent, employees will not challenge unusual behavior, and information critical to the organization s survival will not reach the board It takes years to implement a program that result in an open, honest, and collegial culture and to maintain it requires a neverending dedicated effort by management Such a culture does not occur by accident, but rather by design (although certain strong, ethical leaders have created such a culture by sheer force of personality and example rather than formal process) Common components of effective cultures include:
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Statement of ethical principles or corporate values Methodical processes to encourage desired behaviors and to identify and correct activities that breach accepted boundaries
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