Compliance has been a focus for corporate America from the time regulations have been imposed. That focus drew in and became sharper with the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. The next step is moving beyond compliance to creating an ethical culture. But that's apparently not as easy as it may sound.
In an Accounting SmartPros article, The End of Ethics? Going Beyond Compliance Requirements, attorney David Gebler says the distinct discipline of business ethics is being absorbed by the discipline of effective business management. In the post-Sarbox era, Gebler says,
...ethics officers are seeing the need to influence key business practices that go far beyond awareness of code standards and corporate values.
Ethics involves behavior. To be successful, then, an ethics officer should work behind the scenes to help the "institutional influencers of behavior" to succeed. Who are those influencers? Human resources, communications and organizational development. But ethics isn't ending, he says. It's evolving:
"Ethics" must be the discipline of helping managers and leaders create the culture where raising issues is safe, as well as socially acceptable, and where frustrations stemming from today's business pressures can be safely vented. Helping organizations first assess cultural vulnerabilities and then coordinate functional leaders in communication and training to address these issues is the most valuable role an ethics officer can play.