The Embassy Analogy

I just returned from 3 days in New Orleans where I participated in the Ethics & Compliance Initiative’s Best Practices Forum. I was one of about 100 practitioners discussing how best to evaluate an E&C program.

During one of the roundtable discussions, a colleague asked how others deal with cultural differences around the world. When it was my turn to speak, I offered the “embassy analogy”.

When we walk into an embassy, we legally walk into a new country. The laws of the embassy’s country now apply to us. This is something we need to think about before we walk into an embassy.

Similarly, when we walk into our place of employment, we agree to follow the company’s rules and abide by its values. We might work in a country that doesn’t protect employee safety as much as our company, or allows employment discrimination based on race or gender, or doesn’t enforce its bribery laws. These “cultural differences” should be seen as irrelevant by ethical employers.

In a way, a company is like a tribe. My favorite definition of a tribe is: “People like us do things like this.”* If we refuse to pay bribes – or hurt the environment, or discriminate – people like us will come work for us and buy our products. Others won’t.  And that’s just fine because we don’t want them. Our goal is not to be a company that everyone wants to work for. We just want the people who share our values. Others can go work somewhere else. No one has to work for us.

This attitude should not be mistaken for a belief that our values are better than those adopted by other groups or organizations. Different values could be just as good. And, who knows, maybe we are living by the wrong set of values. The point simply is that we have intentionally chosen our values and living by them should be a condition of employment.

Do you agree with the embassy analogy? Let me know in the comment section below.

*HT to Seth Godin

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