Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Corporate cultural change: Concrete and values-based policies

This is the third in a series of five posts suggesting best practices for implementing corporate cultural change.  For an overview of all the tips on this subject, check out this preview postThe first post in the series discussed tone and conduct at the top.  Last week’s post was about the importance of consistent, visible enforcement.  Today’s post will discuss strategies for creating and implementing effective policies.  The fourth post in the series, on March 19, will focus on putting in place procedures that are complementary to those policies.  Finally, on March 27, the fifth and final post will discuss tips for going beyond training in order to create effective and engaging employee education initiatives to boost awareness and compliance culture.

As discussed in the last two posts in this series, concrete changes to organizational culture cannot be accomplished through mere rhetoric, even when it is underlaid by sincere desire for progress.  Compliance program best practices must be observed and supported by senior management and top leadership in order for effective controls and cultural values to take root throughout the organization.


Integrity of game play: Referee bias

This is the third in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play.  The first post discussed the impact of various types of player misconduct on sportsmanship and game outcomes.  Last week’s post debated whether tanking can be ethical and looked at numerous examples of tanking across different sports to compare how it happens and what its effect is. Today’s post is about referee bias and how it affects games, players, and teams.  The fourth post, on March 14, will be about organizational cheating operations by teams.  The fifth post and the last in the series, on March 21, will be about unethical leadership of coaches.

Teams and their fans often accuse referees of being biased or making unfair calls. Whenever players or spectators disagree with the call made or penalty assessed – which, for those on the wrong side of the outcome of the decision, is not all that rare – bias is often suspected or assumed.


Insights from behavioral economics for compliance officers

This is the third in a series of four posts on insights for compliance officers from different fields of study.  The first post in the series was about lessons from psychology regarding motivation and choice, from prominent figures such as Viktor Frankl and Barry Schwartz.  Last week’s post discussed insights from self-development and coaching, including the works of people like Brene Brown and Byron Katie.  Today’s will be about insights from behavioral economics.  The fourth and final post in this series, on March 13, will focus on the application of theories of business management theories to corporate compliance programs.

Behavioral economics is a multi-disciplinary field of academic study which integrates themes from psychology, sociology, and neurology, among others, to analyze and predict economic decisions and markets behavior of individuals.  Given that behavioral economics shares so much theoretical inspiration with other areas and covers such a wide array of human behavior, it is naturally quite insightful for compliance officers.  Like compliance, behavioral economics focuses heavily on factors to decision-making and conduct.  Behavioral economics also takes great interest in risk tolerance and assessment, the management of which is also important for compliance.


Integrity of game play: Ethics of tanking

Editor’s note: Check back in the coming days for additional content to this post which will feature a deep-dive discussion on the moral code of tanking and the practice’s themes and applications between me, from a compliance and ethics perspective, and my husband, Bill Afonso, from a sports management and strategy perspective.

This is the second in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play.  Last week’s post discussed player misconduct, such as penalty embellishment, like diving and flopping, and equipment cheating.  Today’s post is about the ethics of tanking and will question the morality of the practice across various sports and situations.  Next week’s post, on March 7, will be about how instances of referee bias impact games, players, and teams.  The fourth post, on March 14, will be about institutional cheating by team organizations.  The fifth and final post, on March 21, will be about coaches who have demonstrated unethical leadership practices.

Tanking is loosely defined as relying upon poor performance in order to ensure future benefit or competitive advantage based upon bottom of the table results. Internal decisions within the team organization can be planned and intended for the purpose of gaining future advantage via sustained losses or refraining from employing the most competitive strategies.   This can include roster manipulations such as sitting key players or keeping others in the minor leagues or farm systems, as well as actually instructing players actively in the game to underperform or to pursue strategies they expect to be unsuccessful or unproductive in order to deliberately lose the game(s).


Insights from self-development and coaching for compliance officers

This is the second in a series of four posts on insights for compliance officers from different fields of study.  Last week’s post was about lessons from psychology regarding motivation and choice, from prominent figures such as Abraham Maslow and Sheena Iyengar.  Today’s post will discuss insights from self-development and coaching.  Next Tuesday’s post will be about insights from behavioral economics.  Finally, on March 13, the last post in this series will discuss how business management theories can be useful for compliance officers.

Much like the insights from psychology discussed in last week’s post linked above, theory of self-development and coaching can be very useful for creating and cultivating a culture of compliance at both the individual and organizational levels.  Focusing on thoughtful growth and progress, inner success and ethical achievement, and a values-based, sustainable approach to strategy and mission are all necessary for fostering integrity in organizations and groups or people within them.  Motivational writings on paths to self-development and tips for effective coaching can translate easily to informing a compliance culture.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on the ethics of right and wrong

Traditional discussions of morality have often focused on dichotomies of good and bad, virtuous and evil, right and wrong.  This polarized thinking simplifies the world into opposing absolutes.  In this view, all people and all conduct stand on one side or other of an imaginary line.  Bad people are responsible for all evil actions and wrong decisions, whereas good people should always be expected to behave in a virtuous manner and to make the right choices.  This views resigns any hope of someone who is judged “bad” making positive contributions to the world or being expected to have integrity; these people must be controlled against, excluded, and blamed when events take the wrong turn.  Good people, on the other hand, are subject to straying from their presumably natural interest in behaving with integrity and must be prevented from doing so and punished if this ever happens, followed by being re-judged as bad if they do not respond to punitive and remedial treatment.

The limiting and unrealistic expectations of such a system are clear.  In practice, this retrograde view can have chilling effect on a truly progressive understanding of organizational integrity and dynamics or any true restorative justice for individuals.  Unfortunately, rules-based systems tend to produce these polarized, inflexible views.  Mandatory compliance with its roles and responsibilities and reliance on policies and procedures can have such an outcome.  Of course, the law, internal requirements, and regulatory expectations often do follow a bright line and so adherence to these expectations is as straightforward as a yes or a no.  However, this strict structure must be supported by a more dynamic and realistic system of values and principles.  Only then can the culture of compliance reflect the true nature of people and their choices and actions, which are all much more complex than a choice between two contrasting modes.


Round-up on bioethics in scientific research

Considerations from bioethics are prevalent throughout scientific research.  As bio-technology innovations advance in both science and medicine, research methodology standards and practices become more ethically complex.  Bioethics is traditionally centered on the link between humans and the sciences.  The far reach of bieothics into health and human sciences reflects how pervasive the ethical obligations and moral choices in scientific research can be.  As humans continue to explore the far boundaries of existing science knowledge for their own benefit, these transformations to all areas of human life will also change the ethical choices and challenges involved.


Integrity of game play: Player misconduct

This is the first in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play.  Today’s post will be about player misconduct, such as penalty embellishment, individual cheating and misconduct, and time offenses.  Next week’s post, on February 28, will be about the ethics of tanking.  The third post, on March 7, will be about referee bias.  The fourth post, on March 14, will be about institutional cheating.  The fifth and final post, on March 21, will be about the unethical leadership of coaches.

Player misconduct is any instance of an act committed by a player which is unfair, contrary to the laws of the game, or interferes with other players or the active play of the game.  These acts can occur in a variety of circumstances, including during active game play, when the play is paused, during intermissions, or before and after the game.  Some types of misconduct – such as those that are eligible for disciplinary sanction, including cautioning or dismissal from the game – are subject to significant referee discretion or technical construction.  Other types of misconduct – such as those fraudulent acts by players that are the result of sustained conspiracies or pre-meditated efforts to cheat – can be more subtle, harder to detect, and challenging to prevent or punish effectively.

Players may be motivated into misconduct out of emotion, competitive ambition, game dynamics toward some outcome or interaction with another player, or, like many other fraudulent acts that threaten game integrity, desire for financial gain and future success.  No matter the varied reasons for why players engage in malfeasance, it remains true that these misconduct events happen across all sports, all national cultures, and all types of events.  Furthermore, manipulation of plays and games by player misconduct negatively impacts the integrity of sporting events and interferes in the unadulterated experience of sporting with real stakes that other participants and fans expect and deserve.

  • Penalty embellishment – Penalty embellishment generally describes anytime that a player seeks to gain unfair competitive advantage by exaggerating contact with another player in order to imply that a foul has been committed against him or her.  Assessments of whether players are embellishing penalties are highly subjective and can become notorious personality evaluations of various players who are accused of chronic or shameless embellishment.  These pretended injuries or simulated contacts with other players are a fundamental exercise in dishonesty and player misconduct which impugns the quality and veracity of game play.  In various sports penalty embellishment takes different typical forms, as described below.
    • Diving (football) – In football (referred to as soccer within the United States), penalty embellishment is also referred to as diving.  Players do it in pursuit of chances to score via free or penalty kicks or in order to cause the opposing player to be sanctioned by the referee and therefore unduly disadvantaging the other team.  Diving is actively studied as a powerful example of “non-verbal deception.”  Leagues have begun to give out punishments and fines more frequently for diving, as the practice of exaggerating contact and injury has the potential to endanger or slow response to other players who are in actual danger.  Footballers who become known for chronically diving further face the reputational damage of being labelled as perpetrators of this deceptive behavior.  Check out these examples of diving from 2017:

Diving is also practiced by players in hockey, where perpetrators are subject to 2-minute penalties for embellishment and can receive fines as supplemental discipline for repeat offenses.  Check out this compilation of diving in the NHL:

    • Flop – Similarly, in basketball, flopping is when players fall on purpose after minimal or no contact from another player in order to provoke referees into calling a personal foul.  This way the player who flops wishes to be awarded free throws and possession of the ball or possibly to cause the opposing player to be fouled out and dismissed from the game.  Flopping has been regulated against in the NBA since 2012 with the potential of fines and, like diving, subjects inveterate practitioners of it to public scorn.  Nevertheless, many players in the NBA do it and even see it as a form of strategy which they practice and perfect over the course of their careers, much to the derision of some of their peers but possibly to their own competitive benefit.  This archived Grantland post gives an interesting perspective on the long history of flopping:  Flopping in the NBA: A History of (Non)violence.  Check out this collection of floppers from the NBA:

  • Time offenses – Time offenses generally refer to the actions of a player or players on one team which use up the remaining time on the clock but don’t serve any other tactical or strategic purpose.  This is possible in any sport which is timed and therefore is a prevalent practice employed to prevent the other team from getting adequate opportunity to score before the period of the game or the game itself ends.  Players will often do this when their team is winning by a small margin, or tied, in sports where overtime play is possible and/or regulation ties or non-regulation losses are still awarded points.
    • Time-wasting – The term time-wasting typically applies to football.  Late in the game, such as during the extra minutes from injuries or other stoppage, substitute players are brought on and time can be wasted both by exiting and entering players who do so deliberately slowly.  These and other less obvious forms of time-wasting, such as putting the ball out of play from the corner or returning to the ball to play slowly, can subject players to punishment.  Check out these ridiculous and overt examples of time wasting by footballers:

    • Running out the clock – Running out the clock is a form of clock (mis)-management which is employed by American football players in the NFL.  Teams on the offense which are also leading on the scoreboard will plan their play strategy with minimal risk in order to run the time from the clock and avoid the potential of losing possession or having the ball go out of bounds.  Basic rushing plays down the middle of the field or multiple quarterback knees are often used as teams trade the chance of additional scoring for relative security as the remaining time in the game drains away.  Here’s an example from 2016 of players deliberately holding the other team’s defenders in bear-hugs in order to run out the clock (notice all the flags on the play):

  • Equipment cheating – Equipment cheating is a ubiquitous risk across many different sports, in any situation where the condition of accessories used by the players can be doctored or falsified.  In baseball or cricket, bats can be “corked” – filled with an artificial material to make them lighter and easier to hit a ball farther with them.  In tennis, rackets can be strung illegally.  In golf, players can use clubs which violate weight and size regulation.  In cycling, bikes can be altered so that they perform and operate unnaturally in comparison with normal equipment.  This can be referred to as “technological doping” – a threat to the integrity of the sport which comes not from illegal performance enhancing-drugs, but in fact from performance enhancing-equipment that has been fraudulently adjusted.  Check out this article on “technology doping” in cycling from 2016:  What’s Next for Sport After Cycling’s Technology Doping Shame?

Check back next week, Wednesday February 28, for the second post in this series of five, which will discuss the ethics of tanking, such as the Philadelphia 76ers and “trust the process” and the Astros tanking strategy for World Series contention.


Insights from psychology for compliance officers

An informed approach to business compliance can be improved by taking theoretical insights from different fields.  For example, a corporate culture which seeks to promote ethical leadership, or provide support for making choices from a basis of integrity, or encourage employee engagement with compliance values, should take lessons from a variety of sources to make relevant and relatable appeals.

Psychology in particular has many affinities with a profession that is focused on culture and values, both of organizations and of the individuals within them.  Study of psychology in search of insights relevant to compliance ethics can be used in creating our culture, informing our norms, and helping us to develop and articulate our values.  All of these insights are necessary for cultivating a compliance culture and professionals in the compliance and ethics function have to be the first ambassadors for this.  To do this effectively, psychology can provide important guidance.