The beauty of being in the compliance field (or writing about it) is that within any day’s news cycle, there are lessons to learn and debates to be had.
President Trump, for example, is on the warpath over Oval Office leaks to journalist Bob Woodward. Stripped of histrionics and politics, there just might be valuable academic discussions to be had, including such matters as the role of whistleblowers, retaliation against those employees, internal investigations, and even the forensic skills needed to unearth problematic conversations, memos, and e-mails.
Another worthy topic for CCOs is the balancing act between what is legal versus verboten by employees and executives. If the recreational use of marijuana is legal in California, should we care that Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk took a drag during a recent podcast?
There is no denying that Musk has been as unhinged as a boa constrictor’s jaw these days. The puff-puff-pass sniffed around the world, however, reeks of overreaction.
Should Tesla’s stock price really have dived as he inhaled? Is it truly time to mull over his company’s succession plans because of it (not to mention the high-profile executive exits that helped fan the flames)?
From a CCO world view, there is a bigger concern rolled into this talk of Tesla, Musk, and blunts: How to ensure and preserve tone at the top and the corporate values it inspires.
If Musk, as leader of his company, is free to make strange statements while indulging in an on-the-job drag, where does that leave company leadership in its quest to build, measure, and promote corporate culture? Hint: not a good place.
Sadly, a challenge for CCOs is cutting through hypocrisy and knee-jerk reactions to “do the right thing” in situations like this.
Amid the recent talk of short-termism, long-termism, and how to ensure that public companies buckle in for sustained growth rather than just a quarterly celebration, there is the background scourge of hypocrisy.
Musk, of course, is an easy target. What should we make though of the fact that an even easier target proved far more problematic and elusive to deal with?
On Sept. 9, CBS Corp., National Amusements, and members of the CBS board of directors announced that Leslie Moonves, amid a maelstrom of sexual harassment allegations, will depart as chairman, president, and CEO.
As part of the deal, Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace. The donation was deducted from any severance benefits that may be due Moonves following the board’s ongoing independent investigation.
“Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time (other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits); any payments to be made in the future will depend upon the results of the independent investigation and subsequent board evaluation,” the announcement says.
Let’s unpack this a bit. Dumping Moonves is a necessary and laudable move. The hypocrisy comes from the tooth-pulling it took to make it happen.
In the blink of an eye, Tesla’s stock fell, and Musk was vilified for a quick puff. Yet, somehow, after years of well-substantiated allegations, Moonves clung to power, with some analysts far more concerned about his genius than the path of personal destruction he allegedly caused.
As for the initial New Yorker story that helped usher in his demise, it included well-known Hollywood figures who, on-the-record, made their accusations.
Alas, Moonves was an “important guy” and a lot of money was at stake, so whistleblowers be damned.
Trump’s aforementioned hunt for leakers may be easier said than done. Verifying Moonves’ accusers, however, should have been a sensitive, yet fairly simple execution of internal investigation skills. Did it really require months and two major law firms to reach a nearly inevitable conclusion?
The hypocrisy CCOs must be on guard for is when the rich and powerful rise to money-fueled immunity. Any rank-and-file employee at CBS would have been bounced long ago, not shielded from repercussions like Moonves was. And, yet, for every trader swept up in Dodd-Frank regs, or international business agent disgraced by bribery and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, their punishment is seldom on the same track, or with the same severity, as those in the C-suite.
There needs to be a rededication to “justice for all.” Moonves’ travesties, like ongoing Wells Fargo scandals and many other acts of malfeasance against investors, customers, and employees, should not linger and hide in a political vacuum. It is up to CCOs to cut through the hypocrisy to ensure that those at the top are called to account faster, and with greater severity, than those who toil beneath them. That is the only way to preserve the tenuous balance of corporate culture.
Tone at the top needs to be an absolute, not a term of convenience.