Wells Fargo had a hotline for employees to report Ethics violations and other questionable activity? So what happened?

Not the first time we are hearing about this type of bad behavior by large organizations. Let’s roll out the red carpet list of honorable mentions: Tyco, Enron, WorldCom to name a few. Then there are the organizations that are revered like Goldman Sacs where a Director went straight to the main street press to “blow the whistle” on bad behavior as he departed. The PR machine of Wall Street twisted the story inside out. Like a rape victim being blamed for inspiring the inappropriate act.

Well where was HR at these organizations and countless others???? And NO this is not an advertorial for Union organizing, although that is on occasion a good measure to balance bad executive management.

I always thought of HR as the consciousness of an organization. The one function that could operate outside the bubble. I have stated publicly and privately that HR needs access to the board in case of these worst case situations occurring. They also need a higher level of protection, just in case.

When I read HR leader job descriptions I rarely see any verbiage on being the facilitator in dealing with ethics disasters at organizations. I say for all public companies it should be a requirement and for non -profits and governmental entities too. In fact, why not make it a law for every business.

We have legislation for harassment and discrimination, with the EEOC and OFCCP keeping a watchful eye. We have the FLSA and the DOL too.  We even have mandated training for harassment.

So why not Ethics?

For the record there are some laws on the books now, they just don’ get enforced.

As far as my comment about Brave HR it is very difficult to stand alone in a hurricane. I have been there personally a couple of times. Once it even played into my exit from an organization. Standing up to leadership or even the top person takes more than being brave. One must be willing to put their job and potentially even their career at risk. Being right and brave doesn’t pay the bills.

I don’t blame the HR folks for standing by when ethics are breached, I also think there are many who do stand up and attempt to take action only to be rebuffed by leadership or corrupt boards. Let’s face the truth, many boards are just puppets of leadership or just not willing to put their necks out too. Especially when they are the minority of the board seeing issues.

I teach graduate level HR in an MBA program. We spend a class each semester discussing ethics from an HR perspective. In fact, most business programs undergraduate and graduate have ethics courses and curriculum woven in to their programs. It’s a start.

We need more in todays and tomorrows business world. Let’s require HR staff in organizations over 15 people to take a licensing course and exam (like financial services and insurance licenses) to certify their knowledge. Let’s pass legislation with some teeth on ethics. Let’s hold management accountable for their actions.

I am not saying the folks at Wells Fargo should have gotten a pass and been retained. The CEO and members of leadership are ultimately responsible. They should be fired and stripped of exit bonuses and pay. Only then will Business wake up to the consequences of their actions. Till then we will have reoccurring situations. The names will change, but history will repeat itself.



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