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Even with committed, informed, courageous,and persistent leadership we may still have significant hurdles to overcome. Terry Cooper has commented on
the leaderâ€™s problems with role conflict or ambiguity of authority when attempting to effect change.12 We may find there is a need to develop clear channels of support from the top, as Yates has counseled and Campbell has demonstrated. Greanias and Windsor note this may extend to the organization itself, since it has various constituencies with differing expectations,13 and Andrews observes this phenomenon may apply as well to corporate boards of governors.14
There will probably be considerable inertia to overcome. Bhide and Stevenson have reported on their analysis of the operation of ethical codes in the marketplace, and find that victims may often not identify themselves as such, due to personal, financial, or psychological reasons. For this reason, they contend, much impropriety goes unreported and unpunished.15 So, too, with many organizations, in my experience.
Leaders and organizations also have a tendency, it appears, to pay attention to the extremes of the spectrum and avoid dealing with the all-important middle. John Rohr has described this issue thusly: â€śWe tend to focus on narrow, rather legalistic questions... or we aspire to articulate vast schemes of general ethics.â€ť16 Thus it is the case that many organizations have lofty statements of organizational codes of behavior and can also probably tell you how many people got caught fudging their travel expenses in the last year, but tend to have incomplete information as to what is going on in the middle.
Still other executives, organizations, and professions tend to sit. Organizational consultant Frank J. Navran has commented on this tendency of companies and organizations in the area of corporate values.17 Researchers and theorists Lloyd Nigro and William Richardson have also studied this phenomenon. Following a call by Moneypenny in a 1953 edition of Public Administration Review for public agencies to move from a stance of â€śpious declarationâ€ť to actual implementation of ethical codes, they tracked progress in the pages of that same journal. As of 1990, they declared they had found none in the intervening 3 7 years.18
Still others opt, consciously or unconsciously, for a path of suboptimization. Since they have difficultly measuring the effects of their efforts on the major objectives they seek to attain, they begin to move down the food chain until they find matters capable of measurement and then hope that these will suffice as surrogates for the intended goal measurements. Terry Cooper has commented on this tactic as follows: â€ś... The fact that ultimate goals often do not lend themselves to quantification usually leads to an attempt to work down the hierarchy of subordinate goals until one or more are found to which numbers can be assigned.â€ť19
Randall and Gibson have also commented on measurement issues. They conducted a review of more than 700 articles published with regard to business ethics and found that only 94 offered any parameters for measuring the effectiveness of business ethics programs. Further, they found that even among the 94 articles there were substantial open questions as to how well research design and sampling issues had been dealt with.20
Still others see dangers in attempting to resolve significant organizational issues through incremental steps that will never achieve the desired objective. Henry Mintzberg has noted his considerable research into operations of organizations and has commented on their tendency to operate in an ad hoc, discontinuous mode in a number of areas. He argues that absent a systematic or coordinated plan for implementation, it is unlikely one will appear from such idiosyncratic initiatives.21
There is a danger also that the mere declaration of intent can become a surrogate for effective implementation and meaningful progress. While the figures are somewhat dated, it is interesting to speculate on the meaning of four studies conducted between 1964 and 1987 that showed that corporations were adopting codes of conduct at an increasing rate. By 1987, 85 percent of reporting corporations advised they had such a code. What is perhaps telling from the studies is that in a 1980 study, 91 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the performance of their firmsâ€™ codes.22 So high a rate of satisfaction may be indicative of a comprehensive and well-functioning ethical system within those organizations, or one could speculate that the mere adoption of a code was being perceived as having solved any existing problems.
Having delineated some of the obstacles likely to be faced when attempting to develop a comprehensive and effective conduct and compliance program, what positive guidance may we look toward? Peters and Austin suggest, as with any effort at achieving excellence in organizations, that it will require â€śa million little things done with obsession, consistency and care.â€ť23 Kirk Hanson advises that corporate compliance and conduct codes are capable of being effectively implemented, but this will require multiple implementation measures and mandatory reporting systems.24