Why Current Approaches Fail

Current Approaches To Addressing Misconduct and Malpractice Are Narrow and Ineffective.

The current discourse on issues of organizational behaviors and cultures vis a vis malpractices and misconduct is undermined by their inherent complexity and multi-­dimensional nature, yet so many solutions are narrowly defined, and as a result, ineffective.

Narrow Perspectives and Solutions.

The prevailing perspective among legal, ethics and compliance professionals, as well as enforcement agencies is that issues of misconduct and malpractice derive from insufficient control systems (that is, laws and regulations), an accurate yet narrow perspective. This explains why so many approaches are based on deterrence and punishment – thanks in part to the incentives offered by US Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. And why most, if not all, enforcement actions require companies to develop programs and systems to detect and report potential noncompliance with laws and regulations.

For instance, in reaction to regulatory or public scrutiny, many companies quickly opt for developing some general or specific regulatory-oriented training, or compliance program, or ethics code, etc. Or implement some other similar software tool usually marketed as a pre-programmed system or package.

The main weakness of this approach is that it only deals with the effects of the misconduct. That is, behaviors resulting from the malpractice or misconduct, but not the root causes – which are the underlying conditions in the organizational environment that incubated such misconduct. The result is many solutions that hyper-focus on superficial aspects of the consequences, instead, of a deeper exploration of why the problems occurred.

So on the surface, these options can go a long way in counteracting regulatory noncompliance or improving management information systems and oversight, but they are often short-lived. They may generate options, many of which are stand-alone programs that serve only as temporary fixes. Soon, however, these companies usually relapse to their earlier states.

A speak-up mechanism helps very little unless transparent grievance procedures are in place to stifle trigger-happy managers who can misuse their authority to fire or intimidate whistleblowers.

Ultimately, these narrow initiatives do not yield particularly good results unless other buttressing actions are taken to complement them – systematic changes in other organizational processes, practices, mechanism, etc. So, while it is accurate that inadequate regulatory-related controls are a demonstrable contributor to misconduct and malpractice in certain circumstances, they fail to recognize the social influences that shape the behavior of individuals and teams in professional settings.

Limited Understanding of Operating Contexts.

Other equally anemic approaches are the solutions that focus too heavily on conceptual ethical or moral considerations. These also have proven to be more theoretical and impractical. The main culprit here are proposals by so-called ‘experts’ armed with theoretical models and narrow experience of real-life operating conditions, so their recommendations to management rely on unrealistic assumptions poorly understood by management themselves. They may understand the theories in abstract and perhaps even why they are important, and the need for change, however, they cannot translate it into practical operational application for organizations.

Unless these solutions are qualified by a suitable model of the organizational conditions they facilitate, they often leave managers with a perplexing abundance of conflicting do’s and don’ts. Many can even be irrelevant to the organization’s operating context. Therefore, a sharper link between the desired or needed organizational conditions and the sort of practices required to secure this desired environment is especially useful.

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