I just published a fun little piece that analogizes haunted houses with corporate compliance & ethics programs that is available on the PBMares blog. I hope you will enjoy it and Happy Halloween!!!
I was recently interviewed by Morning Consult for a series of articles regarding deferred and non-prosecution agreements and wanted to share those here for anyone interested. They are linked below (hopefully these links remain “live” for some time).
There was an awful lot of outrage about the Nationwide commercial drawing attention to home accidents affecting children during the Superbowl this year. It didn’t seem that the outrage was so much directed at the message as much as it was the timing – it was done during a time when people were trying to be entertained, not horrified.
I have four young daughters, so I get that anything that makes me think about their mortality (much less my delinquency or negligence contributing to something that harms them) causes a certain amount of discomfort. A lot of discomfort. But I was with my family watching the game when this commercial aired and I have to say, though it certainly put a temporary damper on our festive spirits, it also caused a moment of reflection. I had forgotten about securing a television set in our home that could fall if one of my kids climbed on it (such a scene was in the commercial).
So I am supposed to be angered that I suffered a brief interruption of my precious and fleeting television entertainment-induced happiness to be reminded that I needed to do something the consequences of which could cause a constant interruption of my happiness for the rest of my life?
When exactly is the time for delivering messages that draw our attention to risks? The argument that this commercial was poorly timed because it interfered with our entertainment is, in my mind, absurd. Television is predominately for entertainment. Therefore, there could be no appropriate time for a commercial like this. Perhaps there are some shows that cater to the melancholic, where “depressing” commercials might resonate better?
The idea behind heightening awareness of risks is to draw the largest amount of attention possible to those risks. In the case of this message, using a Superbowl commercial was sure to reach a heck of a lot more people than some educational/informational show that airs in the middle of the night watched by a couple hundred people.
The public uproar stimulated questions relevant to my professional compliance and consulting work – Are we living in a culture that has no appreciation for hearing about and taking actions to mitigate risks? A culture that actually takes offense when we do?
In business, we need to appreciate, understand and act on risks. Yet compliance and ethics professionals face similar challenges with Boards, Executives, Senior Management and even line employees and/or agents of an organization. Though there is an expectation that these roles know about and deal with risks, it’s not something they particularly care to hear about, particularly in the higher ranks, where it is of great importance and impact. They prefer to discuss financial results, stock performance, mergers & acquisitions, etc. – you know, the REAL and IMPORTANT stuff.
I face a similar challenge when trying to develop proactive compliance and ethics consulting work. Organizations simply don’t want to hear about faint, non-imminent, and “philosophical” dangers that could sink or significantly impair their organization. Much less do they want to spend a little money to properly deal with it.
Using the Nationwide commercial as an analogy, one might think the risk of an unsecured weapon in the home is minimal because one’s children have been well educated on the risks and, due to their obedience, would not play with the weapon. Perhaps true. But what about the kids who come over to play?
The rationalizations in business are really no different. I can’t tell you how often I heard victims of a fraud (both when I was an FBI Agent and now as a consultant) tell me something like “But Sally was such a nice and religious lady whose been with us for 15 years – she COULDN’T have stolen from us! You must have made a mistake.”
To all the compliance and ethics professionals out there working hard to do the right thing, whose risk messages too often fall on deaf ears, I raise my coffee cup to you. You ever need an ear, my number ain’t hard to find.
Happy Thanksgiving 2014.
While we enjoy family, football and food this Thanksgiving and give thanks for our blessings, don’t forget that occupational fraudsters are giving thanks too! And their “thanks” may be your bane.
Here are ten things occupational fraudsters may be thankful for around the dinner table (at a fine dining establishment, of course) this Thanksgiving:
- Non-existent and/or poor internal controls
- Trust of those above and around them and that fraud can’t happen to them
- Fear of retaliation by those who might report them
- You think external auditors look for and find fraud
- Law enforcement focus on non-financial crimes
- Non-existent/weak compliance programs
- Ineffective internal audits
- Management emphasizing fast growth & earnings over ethics – poor ethical tone
- “Golden parachutes” and/or lack of meaningful disciplinary measures and criminal referrals
- Clearing Accounts and Adjusting Journal Entries