Mark Pastin

Mark Pastin is an award-winning ethics and corporate compliance consultant, author and keynote speaker. He is CEO of the Council of Ethical Organizations, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing ethics in business, government and the professions.

The scandal that recently enveloped Wells Fargo teaches an important lesson about running an ethical business. And Wells Fargo was trying to run an ethical business, despite its huge blunder. For example, Well Fargo avoided many of the pitfalls and risky investments that plagued other big banks in 2008/2009.

There are many ideas about the factors that contribute to the ethics of an organization. These ideas range from ethical leadership to a concern for stakeholders to having a mission beyond economic success. While these ideas seem plausible, there is little evidence to support them. More importantly, there is often little you can do to affect these factors. A company that makes coat hangers is limited in the extent to which it can make its mission inspiring.

What use is there in navigating an ethical course if you're unable to influence the thoughts and actions of others? It's one thing for you to know right from wrong, and quite another to convince others to act collectively on your knowledge. To put your ethics to work, you have to be able to influence others to do the right thing.

Do we still need to have in-person, flesh-and-blood meetings? Is there a point to such meetings when we can now see and hear a client or colleague in another part of the country -- or the world -- as if they were seated across from us? Is the belief that being there in-person still matters just a pre-technological bias that will pass as technology makes remote communication even more accessible? My work in ethics tells me that in-person meetings do make a difference - and I can point directly to the reason why.

Let me explain.

Ethics brings to mind dusty volumes of impenetrable text, heated arguments that go nowhere, and an overbearing concern with political correctness. But my thirty years as an ethics consultant has taught me something different. Ethics is really about releasing the forces of innovation in an organization. The reason for this is simple. To have ethics in an organization is to have ways in which employees can jump the line of command without fear of reprisal. And this same jump-the-line-of-command philosophy can make innovation a powerful organizational force.

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