2017 has been a year of surprises, transformation, and growth. Thirteen months ago, on the morning after Election Day, we walked in to the conference room of a global consulting firm based here in New York City. We sat down at a long table with 30 ethics and compliance officers. We gave our talk as planned—a talk on designing ethical systems. But all of us around the table were in a state of… surprise to say the least. Our conversation focused primarily on the consequences of the rather unexpected election of Donald Trump. What were the implications for businesses? How would rules and enforcement change?
Now, a year later, it is clear that whatever regulations are rolled back, businesses face an ever-changing landscape of ethics challenges. Questions of business ethics and ethical culture are front and center in national discussions on sexual harassment in the workplace, diversity and inclusion (which may include viewpoint and political diversity, as we learned in response to the famous “Google memo”); fairness and cheating, and new pressures on leaders to take stands on political controversies. We are on a path to further deregulation of business. The compliance workload may decrease, but the ethics workload will likely increase. This is the time for the business ethics community to show that, together, we can create a better society through ethical business behavior.
2016 has been a year of extraordinary change. Many of these changes make our mission – to help companies strengthen their ethical cultures using behavioral science research – more vital than ever.
Consider just these three facts:
- Populist movements around the world are usually antagonistic towards large corporations, which they often perceive as engaging in predatory behavior
- The recent U.S. election likely means a new and lighter-touch approach to regulation and compliance, particularly in the financial services industry
- The Brexit vote means that Britain must quickly decide upon its own approach to regulation.
Putting these together: The world is hungry for new ideas on how to improve business ethics in ways that do not rely as heavily as before on detailed rules formulated by legislatures and regulators. There is a desperate need to help businesses become more self-regulating, in ways that will protect multiple stakeholders while increasing the dynamism and profitability of the business.
That is exactly what Ethical Systems is doing and we have made great progress towards our goals this year.