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  • Richard Bistrong

Is There an Internal Ethics & Compliance Council In Us All?

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

The following guest post and video is by Nicole Rose, CEO and Founder, Create Training.

We all know about ‘the law’, but how about the laws within us that direct our behavior and decisions? Marc Hauser, evolutionary biologist and a researcher, suggests that we  all have a ‘moral organ,’ that comes from an unconscious and intuitive processes which takes place in our brain.  Is this really the case? If so, can we tap into this dynamic to support ethical practices? Let’s explore.

Common moral principles

Let’s start with some basic principles that we may all be able to agree upon. See what you think:

  1. The ‘intentional principle’: people tend to believe that intentional harm is worse than if something is done unintentionally.

  2. The ‘action principle’: we are more likely to find harm reprehensible if it happens through a positive action rather than an omission.

  3. The ‘contact principle’: we believe it’s worse to do harm through direct contact with a person rather than indirectly.

  4. The ‘everyone principle’: if everyone is ‘doing it’, it is more acceptable than if only one person is doing it.

If you want to test your own principles, go to the Moral Sense Test and see how you cope with the unenviable dilemmas.

Evolutionary and environmental morals

As we evolved from infancy to adulthood we took on the moral codes of our environment. In our early years we had our own sense of morality and made our own moral decisions: ‘it’s not fair that he got more toys than me’ or maybe,  ‘I don’t want to share!’ As we got older we encountered the moral code of our parents and then of the world in which we operated and thrived. In essence, we were subjected to the moral code of our environment.

But our environment is also subject to the ‘acceptable’ moral code of the time. 100 years ago the environmental ‘moral code’ looked very different to what it does now. 100 years ago sex discrimination and drunk driving were neither morally reprehensible nor unlawful. Issues such as slavery, suffrage, and apartheid, as examples, all influenced the moral code of time, yet were swept away as those codes changed. In other words, morality is not a static influence, it changes.

Morality and bribery

Now let’s consider bribery and corruption.  What about the FCPA, from the late seventies, when it was enacted, compared to today.  Has our moral code developed so that bribery and corruption (in addition to being a crime) are now considered unacceptable behaviors, where they were once, ‘how we do business’?

If you interviewed a CEO of a large multi-national 40 years ago, would his view of overseas bribery be very different to what it is today? In my previous work as a lawyer, I was a told by one senior employee that ‘in the old days, the bigger the bribe the better the broker’. But attitudes are different now.  Along with the change in the law (1977) and enforcement of it, our revulsion to bribery has dramatically increased and been embedded into our internal moral code.

If we can appreciate the extent of our moral code, we can employ it to leverage our own decision making, with any issue. This opens up the realm of training from one where just teach people what the law is, to training that taps into their own internal ethics and compliance council.

In essence, we want to associate law and policy with how people internally relate to what’s ‘right and wrong.  We can do this through something I call ‘relatable storytelling’: a story that is believable,  that someone can relate to, and that relates to the law/policy of choice. Storytelling allows us to do two wonderfully advantageous and yet perfectly harmonious things- dip into people’s imagination, and also help them to relate it to their own memories, makeup and experiences. When that happens, we can index people’s decisions to their own moral code and the world is your compliance oyster!

Want to give it a try?

As an example in practice, we explore behaviors and morals in our video series ‘Corrupt Casino’. We analyzed the morals (or lack of them) in the stories of high profile cases in order to contrast these behaviors against people’s general moral code.  Part 1 is here. See what you think and send me your thoughts!

Interesting article? Would you like to know more?Contact Me


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