Here’s an interesting view of the recent HP ethics disaster from David Kirkpatrick at Fortune.
If accurate, one might reasonably forgive some of Patricia Dunn’s actions even if you disagree with her motives. On the other hand, “some” is an operative word here. I find myself wondering what could have been said – or not said – that would have let such inappropriate actions, though presumably initially sanctioned by corporate counsel, go so far beyond what was sanctioned without Dunn’s knowledge or consent. No matter how you spin it, even this somewhat forgiving view still portrays a system in which both unethical and almost certainly illegal behavior were allowed to develop and run out of control.
What types of oversight and controls were missing? I won’t presume to know. However, this case speaks volumes regarding the kinds of systems every company ought to have in place to help assure that ethical behavior is promoted at all levels. Perhaps at the top of that list is having both the ability and willingness to bring multiple opinions into the decision-making mix both before and during any type of questionable activities. (In other words, don’t just hit the’ go button’ and assume that everything will be okay. On-going oversight is required.)
Of course no set of systems will be ever foolproof. However, not having tight and reliable oversight and controls is an open invitation to disaster.