Azish Filabi's blog

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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Your Permanent Record: Blacklist for ethics gaining steam

Bad ethics should not be forgotten in the new year- or any other- as bankers and regulators discussed creating an ethical blacklist for individuals working at regulated financial institutions, at the NY Federal Reserve‘s recent culture conference.

This signals new enthusiasm for a provocative proposal originally suggested in 2014 by Bill Dudley, President of the NY Fed: When an employee leaves a company, the organization would have a mandate to report information relating to his/her misconduct to a central database. Concerning hiring decisions, all firms would have a reciprocal duty to check the database against their potential hire list. The goal is to stem the tide of bad apples that bounce from firm-to-firm, negatively influencing stability, profits and planning.

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Reforming Culture and Behavior in the Financial Services Industry Conference

The Reforming Culture and Behavior in the Financial Services Industry Conference last week at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York* demonstrated that today’s financial industry understands the need for culture and behavior change in order to run a more ethical company. After spending many years focused on implementing compliance programs, there is now an complementary understanding of the role of ethics and its important function in shaping culture and reputation. The financial industry, however, must confront the bigger challenge of finding ways to actually change behavior.

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Ethics and the City: Regional programs for success

Ethical systems design is rooted in a systems-approach. We at Ethical Systems generally look at these at 3 levels: 1) personal ethics; 2) organizational ethics; and 3) the national culture and legal/regulatory environment. It is the interplay between these levels that creates a self-sustaining ethical culture.

Within the context of the third level, there is an emerging trend, where ethics and culture are being used to promote regional economic development. Ethics is taking center stage in two cities- Boston and Omaha- and galvanizing people to come together to engage in discussion and identify solutions.

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Professionalism and Ethics: A missed connection?

What does professionalism mean to you? Often, people who identify as a professional think of themselves not only as knowledgeable in their discipline, but also rational, objective and serving a higher purpose (e.g., the client’s needs). These are laudable goals, but new research shows that these characteristics could actually lead to people making self-interested, and ultimately unethical or damaging, decisions.  

In a paper on Professionalism and Moral Behavior, Maryam Kouchaki of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, tests the hypothesis that an emphasis on one's professional identity has a greater likelihood of an individual engaging in unethical behavior. This is an important inquiry in light of ethical failures in companies where lawyers and accountants often act as “gatekeepers” on ethics and compliance issues vis a vis corporate practices. Based on evidence from her lab studies and employee surveys, Kouchaki concludes that priming professionalism may actually lead to increased misbehavior.

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Bad Apples, Bad Barrels or Bad Barrel Makers?

The prominence of compliance in organizations continues to rise. Recently, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) named Ms. Hui Chen as its Compliance Counsel- a much anticipated new role which many have applauded as a step forward for addressing the criticism that the DOJ doesn’t appropriately credit companies who implement effective compliance programs.

Ms. Chen comes well prepared from a background in both corporate compliance and prosecution, which she will likely lean heavily upon when tackling the difficult task of helping prosecutors recognize whether an incident is symptomatic of an unethical corporate culture or the result of a rogue employee. This is the distinction that has challenged social psychologists for decades: is it the individual or the system that is to blame?

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An Executive Order Promoting Behavioral Science

As we have long said, behavioral sciences are the key to unlocking better decision making, from study halls to the halls of power. This week, the White House echoed our view via an Executive Order outlining that behavioral insights be used to better serve the American people. What began as a nudge, is now a full-on push.

Ethical Systems praises this initiative as a major step towards not only making behavioral science more widespread but also in advancing the incorporation of ethical system design in business. When businesses adopt these systems, research shows their employees are happier, more productive and, as a result, the business is more profitable. 

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