Has The Global Financial Crisis Helped Change Corporate Ethics For The Better?

The question I seem to be getting over and over these days is whether or not I feel that the global financial crisis has yet had a positive impact on corporate ethics. The best answer I can give is that I only wish it were so.

Despite the perpetual wringing of hands, statements of grave concern, and well-publicized vows of better controls, I can't say that I've actually seen much change. In fact, things remind me more and more of the period following the Enron collapse. Then, as now, ethics were on everyone's lips and bold commitments were made to shore up badly needed repairs in the corporate fabric. Though we got Sarbanes-Oxley out of it here in the U.S., the reality on the front lines was that not much else had really shifted. The primary change, as I have maintained ever since, was that there was a dramatic increase in the number of folks professing to be concerned about the ethics of their companies and industries. Otherwise, most things were pretty much business-as-usual on the front lines. 

Even when post-Enron professions of interest in better ethics were heartfelt, in most companies they never actually translated into much. In fact, we have seen ethics problems move back to pre-Enron levels in a variety of industries as I have posted about previously. Sadly, it's been a dismal showing all-in-all and, of course, we have the current global financial crisis as yet another flamboyant measure of that.

Being the pathological optimist that I am, I continue to hope that the current global financial meltdown will have significant, positive, and lasting impact on corporate ethics. However, at least to date, no matter whom one asks, ethics continue to always be someone else's problem rather than the problem of the individual or entity with whom one is speaking. Until that shifts, I'm afraid that we haven't got the remotest chance for positive changes, let alone lasting ones.

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