I am NOT a fan of typical “consultant-speak” phrase-ology that coins simple mottos to resolve complex problems. As further “proof-positive” of my point, one fairly recent experience I had raised my frustration (and blood pressure) even higher. I served as an interim Treasurer for a large service company that supported two large subsidiaries of the same Australian parent company. One of the “Big 4” was the audit firm, and as part of their interim review process, a member of the audit team came to see me regarding answers required from all company “officers” to their fraud checklist questionnaire.
I was appalled.
There were seven questions on that fraud checklist; six were clearly to be answered “Yes”, one was clearly to be answered “No”. Needless to say, I passed. I went so far as to ask the staffer, “what do you do with this work? Does it get reviewed, are there follow-up procedures to be completed, what is done beyond this 7-UP list of questions…anything?
“No, Mr. Wanserski, that was it.”
Which leads me to my least favorite and most overdone motto…“Tone at the Top.” Whether it be the “Forbes Corporate Scandal Sheet” (NOT one of my favorite business “rags” by the way, but we don’t have time for that story here), or CitizenWorks’ listing with a very similar title; the fraudsters in these examples were mostly people…at the top.
What good is “tone at the top” when you have “fraud at the top”?
My theme, and you heard it here first, is “tone throughout.” Think about it, ethical action starts with individuals. You simply cannot “toss” responsibility for ethics, right-and-wrong-decision-making, and so on, to the corner office. I once had a fraudster whom I caught, say that he needed someone to serve as his ethical mentor…and had that “someone” been there, he never would have done what he did…what HE did. We are all responsible for our own actions, our own decisions, our own choices. So let’s toss “tone at the top” OUT, and ensure each of us do our individual part to know the difference between right and wrong, act accordingly, make ethical choices, be accountable, and not “toss” responsibility “upstairs” or anywhere else either. As history as proven, “the top” people have many times made incorrigible choices (again, see the “corporate scandal sheet” of your choice). “They” are clearly not always right, and “we” have to be vigilant, and responsible, and accountable, and speak up, take appropriate action, be leaders… …ALL OF US, throughout our organization. “Tone Throughout.”