Leadership

Corporate Ethics Officer: A new job title makes an appearance

Because of all the recent corporate scandals, some companies are trying to ensure their trustworthiness by hiring Corporate Ethics Officers. Here's what the job entails.

Because of all the recent corporate scandals, some companies are trying to ensure their trustworthiness by hiring Corporate Ethics Officers. Here's what the job entails.

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Let me walk you through my reactions to this. First, the term "Corporate Ethics" is perhaps the best example of an oxymoron ever. Add the word "officer," and you conjure the mental image of that orange-belt-wearing safety patrol from the fourth grade who tried in vain to keep the mean kids from crossing against the light.

It seems at first blush to be the most unlikely position any self-respecting corporate power would hire for. But it is a growing area for a number of reasons.

First, thanks to scandal kings like Enron and Tyco, there is a call for corporations to prove that they're not corrupt. For some, the addition of a Corporate Ethics Officer to the staff may just be PR window dressing. (In other words, they hire someone, give them that title, and then completely ignore anything they try to narc about.)

But savvy CEOs know that it's about more than spin. New and stricter laws that hold corporations responsible for employee behavior mean that corporations must have better ways of uncovering and handling those behaviors. Employee use of the Web at work would be just one area where a Corporate Ethics Officer could focus.

Third, employee-filed lawsuits against companies for sexual harrassment or hostile work environments are becoming more common. The Corporate Ethics Officer could focus on these areas where middle managers often don't know how to respond.

If this sounds like a direction you'd like to pursue as a career, you might find that many business schools don't offer much in the way of ethics education. And if they do, it's unlikely that they teach it in light of the ethics issues that surround the newer world of electronic data.

So where do you go? Here are a couple of places to start looking:

Ethics & Compliance Officer Association (a professional association that also provides training)

http://www.theecoa.org

Ethics Resource Center

http://www.ethics.org/

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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

24 comments
AV .
AV .

I think its just a token position that was created to improve the Corporate image. Nothing more. A paper tiger. Corporations already have software and a legal department in place to deal with compliance. The real problem is with upper management. Will a Corporate Ethics Officer have the power to reign them in? I doubt it. So its nothing but PR. AV

z917183
z917183

"But savvy CEOs know that it?s about more than spin." And if it really was just a PR spin, they would say so, would they? Hmmm - in this economic climate together with the corporate culture of "Greed is Good" (with infinite greed being deemed infinitely good) - it still seems this is just another PR band-aid, another bit of mask for the "Phantom of the Opera", no...make that "Phantom of the Corporate Boardroom" (where no-one is really held accountable if they have enough money). A sad commentary on the state of affairs and probably holding more truth than I fear it does.

ashepard
ashepard

The only course in ethics I had was bio-ethics for medical profession. It was taught by the philosophy department. I wish it was taught as most DBA and computer people have alot of access to data and most are very ethical. There are even ethical hackers. Business world has a different history going back to Boss Tweed, baby formula posining and now peanut butter recalls. Thanks for the article. Ethics is more than punishing others. Its about doing the right thing. Allen

ptc4free
ptc4free

To me the idea sounded very... "hall monitor-ish." And it kind of is. But the hall monitors at schools were never doing anything bad... good intentions. So its like... Me going into the security industry, I've got to be aware of things, such as what software circulates the office, what sites are being visted and posted on, and what data travels the wire and who has access. A corporate ethics officer [CEO] (zomg he wishes), would serve me good. Since I'll be the guy dealing with policy infringements it would help to know more about them going on. Just, hope they pay these guys well because in the office they would be known as the snitch (so long as they are doing their job). I can handle being hated and known as a snitch at work if I could go home to something nice I suppose. Beats working in labor eh?

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

What exactly does the term "narc" mean? As in "(In other words, they hire someone, give them that title, and then completely ignore anything they try to narc about.)" The only verb form I could find anywhere (Wikipedia) related to divers suffering from nitrogen narcosis. This does not make a great deal of sense in this context as the article does not discuss divers or diving. Thank you.

al_cross
al_cross

This is not really all that new of a term or idea. There is an obvious need for a senior level person to be overseaing Business Ethics within large corprations. The negitative responces is because there is some degree of being told what to do on a level that many people feel they should not be needed to be challenged. How honest are you? Is this the right thing to do? Who is choosen to be layed off? Young guy with family, older employee nearing retirerment? Poor porformer? Good one but in wronge skill set? Is it alright to ship tainted peanut butter? Loan money on a risky mortgage then sell the morgae to another company? Lie on my resume?

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

weekly daytime activities, we have a Corporate Ethics and Compliance team. There are guidelines to follow, and if unsure about ANY descision, we are supposed to run it through our manager, or the Ethics and compliance team. Also, we have yearly trainings on what is and is not acceptable, along with problems that came up the year before. One main reason for this team is for interactions with different cultures/countries. If we set a standard first, then boundaries will not be crossed on accident. Actually, most of the policies are common sense issues, like bribes, accepting bribes, conflict of interest, treating employees and contractors with respect, etc.. I guess it is all up to the company implementing these, but here, I have seen no real adverse effects (other than those who dont think first anyway). Issues that have come up in training (from previus years incidents) would include layoffs are announced, but nobody is chosen yet. 1 employee starts tattling on everyone else over every little thing to try to look good and be kept. Manager leaks news to the press, even though said manager signed confidentiality agreements. Manager states that they didnt know it included confidential meetings with the board. etc., etc., etc..

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Five years down the road, the Corporate Ethics staff will be using the catch-phrase used by people working in Military Intelligence: "It's a job, not a state of mind." edit: grammer

santeewelding
santeewelding

aka, Corporate Bastard, learned in all that is wrong.

Marcelle Green
Marcelle Green

Business ethics is important, but this position is going too far. If they are to educate the employees on ethical decisions, then why not outsource, but if the are to oversee and control, you are going to need various levels. How about an ethics department.

asics447
asics447

I worked for a company once that had this (had to take tests watch videos monthly to be in-compliance) and it is just smoke and mirrors to make the complany look good and make believe it is ethical and they care. By they way the company that ran this was the most unethical law breaking slave labor I ever worked for. CORP ETHICS OFFICER is a joke and strictly PR.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

as I have posted previously, we have a group of people for this, and on top is the chief ethics officer. Not anything like a hall monitor, and they dont go around looking for issues, they help to legitimize actions when someone needs help. With the diversity of cultures, someone may be trained -- in this country, do this, then gets transferred to another country and finds out that it is illegal and a fuss was made. What they do DO at the company that I work for is look into requests for different scenarios, and come up with acceptable policies that should be followed by everyone, regardless of region/culture. There is a place that managers and employees can go to in order to discuss issues/scenarios BEFORE they happen, and turn south. They aer there mainly to help and guide the company in a more respectable manner. They arent going down the halls looking for people misbehaving and then starting cr@p (although if it is seen, they may). I am not saying that they are all good, or outside of this company how they are. But from what I have seen, they do good and I dont see it as a bad thing. But I guess it all depends on how intrusive they become. Here, they are guides to prevent problems, and a place to go with questions that need answering. In this role, I see them as being effective

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

When you "narc" someone out, that means you're a rat/squealer/stool pigeon/fink/etc

Geek3001
Geek3001

It is kind of sad that organizations need to consider a business ethics department. In an ideal world, business ethics would be a subset of general ethics and taught in the home and at elementary school. Heck, it would be nice if the media promoted ethical behavior in various ways, as opposed to glorifying unethical behavior. Alas, bad news seems to draw in more advertising cash than good news.

somebozo
somebozo

a bunch of totally unethical people are going to rule this department.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Sounds unethical to me. Who are they to decide the ethics of and individual or organisation. What is there are two confilicting ethical options. The proper ethical thing would be to do none of them, but in reality a choice needs to be made, thus unethical.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Perhaps someone who, for some strange reason, thinks the rules of law ought to be obeyed and those who don't should be brought to light.

williaa6
williaa6

Here in Australia, when you are 'narcy', you are annoyed or p***ed off.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Corporate Ethics Officer, aka Corporate Compliance Officer, does not decide a person's ethics. They are responsible for ensuring that the company environment is in accordance with equal opportunity and treatment laws of the nation and state; as well as ensuring the company's own value system(s) are adhered to. The CCO should review all the rule sets, ensure that employees are informed of the rule sets, clarify how employees should behave in accordance with those rule sets, mediate conflicts between rules, and provide a system to report possible violations of those rules. Any employee can break ethical or moral rules in a company. Hopefully they are either accidental and correctable, or if deliberate, justified. Unfortunately, they are too often deliberate and unjustified. In any event, there are consequences to those actions, whether they are caught or not.

williaa6
williaa6

Sorry for the delay, but I found I had some work to do. :-) It is pronounced "narky".

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Narc is said as nark, do you say narky or narsy?

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