The Wall Street Journal Test. That is the phrase I use when training corporate employees on compliance and ethics. I ask folks to think about how their company’s reputation would be affected if a person’s action, deed or conduct, which they engaged in for their employer, was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). If it did appear would there be reputational damage to their company? (I should add that for my U.K. readers, I would ask if your action was on the front page of the Financial Times.) It all boils down to reputation because that is the foremost indicator of your company’s values.
I admit to having been very conflicted over Lance Armstrong. He’s a Texan, from Austin, so we have that immediate connection. As a cycling aficionado, I was a huge fan, as he overcame three different types of cancer and went on to win seven Tour de France races; which, for my money, is one of the most intense and difficult athletic competitions on the planet. He was the Chairman of Livestrong, which is dedicated to the fight against cancer where he provided hope and inspiration to those stricken with the disease.
But as I said, I remained conflicted over Lance Armstrong until I heard a completely different ethical values perspective. I was attending an event at my graduate school program, the School of Human Relations and Labor Relations at the Michigan State University homecoming, and one of my old professors had a thought that really drove home the issues of ethics and personal values in the Lance Armstrong affair. After discussing some of the reported facts and telling him about my ambivalence, he said the test he would use is “Is it something I could tell my kids?”
So what does Armstrong tell his children (or his grandchildren for that matter)?
- Dad won seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad cheated to win seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad lied about his cheating to win seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad told others to lie about his cheating so that Dad could win seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad lied under oath about both his telling others to lie about his cheating and that Dad did not cheat to win seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad made others cheat with him to help him win seven Tour de France championships.
- Dad lied to you.
So from now on I will make my compliance and ethics training more personal. In addition to asking people to consider how their actions will make their company look if it was on the first page of the WSJ, I will ask them to think about their actions and if they could tell their kids.
Thomas Fox is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.