Azish Filabi's blog

Book Summary: The Rule of Nobody

In The Rule of Nobody, Philip Howard describes how bureaucracy is stifling U.S. institutions as well as the spirit of autonomy and free will among Americans. We live within a system whereby layers upon layers of often incomprehensible and inconsistent regulations, mandatory disclosures and requirements create a society that is “governed by dead laws” — meaning that since many of today’s laws are so outdated, they have been rendered irrelevant because layers of new (and sometimes inconsistent) laws have been enacted after them, or they have become otherwise destructive to the social good because they hamper progress. 

The Rule of Nobody [homepage | public library]

By: Philip K. Howard

Summarized by Azish Filabi

The book is packed with examples of inept laws replacing common sense human judgment.  In many cases, government agencies are comprised of well-meaning individuals who can’t apply their common sense and best judgment to resolve the problems they are hired to manage.

His recommendations for restoring human control of democracy and bringing about good government involves a series of reforms (summarized below) towards principles-based regulation, including appointing independent commissions to review and propose amendments to existing laws, to mandatory sunset provisions of all laws with budgetary impact, thus compelling Congress to consider the present needs of constituents when allocating expenditures.    

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The UK’s Banking Standards Board: Should a US model follow?

I recently returned from a trip to London, where I spoke about the role of ethics and culture in organizations with varied, leading professionals. My meeting with the Banking Standards Board (“BSB”) stands out as a potential model for what financial services firms in the U.S. could emulate.

The BSB is a non-profit organization, established by the industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to address core challenges relating to the culture of banking, and help restore the industry’s trust and reputation.

To raise standards of behavior in financial services, the BSB began with a comprehensive analysis of the current standards for culture, the details of which are provided in their 2015 assessment report, identifying themes relating to norms within the banking industry. After conducting assessments at individual firms, and extrapolating common themes, they plan to use these as the framework for future work plans. This assessment creates a baseline so that firms and the BSB can then measure the impact of reform efforts, both internal ethics programs and industry and regulatory initiatives, over time. As I’ve written in previous blog posts, evidence-based ethics research and culture measurement are key to determining what works to drive more ethical behavior in organizations. In order to improve culture, researchers need to help firms better measure their culture and track changes in indicators over time. The BSB has taken a vital step towards this goal.

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Measuring Ethical Culture: Tips and Tools

As any Compliance Officer knows well, demonstrating that your company has an effective compliance program is one of the main goals of your day-to-day efforts, but also one of the most elusive. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are designed to incentivize businesses to implement ethics and compliance programs by rewarding companies through reduced sanctions- if they can demonstrate that they have an effective compliance program.  The broad goal for most companies is to demonstrate, in the face of an investigation or finding of illegal actions, that the act was caused by a rogue employee and not because of how the company inherently conducts its business.

Yet, we all know that in practice demonstrating effectiveness of a compliance program is rife with gray areas, cynicism and challenges.

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Bro-ken speech? Speaking up and speaking out

Speaking-up is hard to do. In a research survey conducted by Sean Martin, Associate Professor at the Carroll School of Management, and presented at Ethics By Design, respondents identified speaking up about ethical issues as the scariest form of “employee voice” in organizations (even more so than speaking up to point out problems). If you’ve ever felt that pain in your gut about giving bad news to your boss, you likely share this sentiment. 

Raising ethical issues requires courage compared to other forms of workplace interactions, as shown in research by James Detert – people’s self-preservation instincts drive their decision to stay silent, even if it’s an issue the company could perceive as one that improves its processes, products or procedures. Research by Professors Milliken (NYU Stern), Morrison and Hewlin (NYU Stern) also shows that employees are likely to be silent because they fear being labeled a troublemaker by their colleagues, and thus damaging valued business relationships. Surprisingly, retaliation in the form of losing one’s job or being passed up for a promotion is at the bottom of the list of reasons to stay silent.  

Given this fear, it’s no surprise that corporations struggle to change their internal culture, particularly when the issues are cultural transgressions that subtly create imbalances in the workplace.

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Risking Reputation Rarely Rewarded: Lessons From The Lending Club

The recent news about Lending Club is a prime example of the reputational value of business ethics.  Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported the company’s twisted fate – it went from receiving a Tribeca “Disruptive Innovation Award” in April (given to then-CEO Renaud LaPlanche) to suffering tumbling stock prices in May, plummeting from approximately $8 on April 1, to a low of $3.94 on the day (May 16th) the WSJ report came out. 

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Guarding Ethics: Azish Filabi's Keynote at Food and Enterprise Summit

What does it mean to eat and shop “local”? While there is no prescribed territory that those in- and in charge of regulating- the food industry can point to, many will generally agree that it is best to avoid regulation around the appropriate use of the term.

While there is widespread disinterest in having officials involved, when businesses cannot agree on how to accurately define, and ethically use, increasingly common terms like “local” (as well as “sustainable”, “natural’, and “artisanal”) it opens the door to participation by regulatory bodies.

Many are drawn to the local food movement because of a passion for community involvement and realizing their role in local economic development.  Intending to start, manage or invest in a purpose-driven business, however, is not sufficient without establishing mechanisms to guard the company’s ethics in the long-run.  This theme was at the center of my recent keynote address at the Food & Enterprise Summit in Brooklyn on April 8 (audio now available via the Heritage Radio Network). Our motivation to be ethical can only take us so far- businesses need proper corporate governance, accountability mechanisms, and strong community ties to help guard their ethics as the company grows.

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Combating a Culture of Minimalism with Preet Bharara

What does it mean to have an organizational culture of minimalism? On the surface, it results in doing only the bare minimum to avoid punishment from internal or external groups. The more insidious implications means that both shareholders and stakeholders end up disillusioned and disconnected after prolonged exposure to the ennui and modicum of expended energy in actually making positive change.

In a recent talk by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as part of NYU Stern Business and Society Program’s Sani Lecture Series, he identified cultures of minimalism as a trending, troubling development in today’s business world. And this is, without doubt, extremely vexing for business leaders, investors, academics and advocates.

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The Global Ethics Summit: Culture at the forefront

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend The Global Ethics Summit, put on by The Ethisphere Institute. The event brought together over 400 people with broad perspectives on managing ethics within organizations, including ethical culture, encouraging speak-up culture, and best practices for Board management.

At the plenary on company culture, it was instructive to hear strategies companies are using to address one specific challenge – how do you use the lever of values to change behavior and outcomes in organizations?  For us at Ethical Systems, this panel was particularly important because we recognize that creating and maintaining ethical culture within an organization is key to supporting everyday ethical behavior.

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Professionalism and Ethical Leadership From General Counsel’s Suite

Among the active debate among compliance professionals, lawyers, and commentators about the proper role of compliance within a corporate hierarchy, there is an emerging consensus that lawyers have become the “loophole finders” and that compliance must step in to protect the firm’s integrity and ethics. 

Azish Filabi, CEO of Ethical Systems and Jim Lager, ES collaborator, have written a piece for Corporate Counsel that addresses this ongoing conversation. Read the piece on "Professionalism and Ethical Leadership From General Counsel’s Suite." >>

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IEX: Ethical Leadership in Finance

As we at Ethical Systems often state, we believe that integrity in business can be enhanced by leaders who take a systems-approach to the organizations and environments in which they operate.

IEX is a model of such leadership and systems thinking in business. Jonathan Haidt and I had the pleasure to meet the team there in January and learn about their motivations, practices and approach to business relationships and investor protection. The meeting was initiated by Chatham Financial, who succinctly summarizes the opportunities and challenges of running an ethical business by highlighting IEX's role in improving trust in the financial services in an OpEd on CNBC.

IEX currently has an application pending before the SEC to be approved as a national securities exchange. Ethical Systems submitted a comment letter in support of approval of that application and we invite you to read it here.

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