In US business schools, there is rarely much discussion about basic ethics. It is taken for granted that the grads will be essentially honest. You dont have to teach them about meum et teum (thats mine and yours for the Latinless). What they are told about is how to resist pressures in emerging economies where things dont move unless you grease the appropriate palms.
Recent scandals involving some of the financial worlds finest should have caused some soul-searching. But if you read all the reports, one impression stares at you from between the lines. What many commentators seem to be saying is that its the corrupt from crooked countries who are destroying the integrity of the great American financial system. Only a few have pointed out that the probe and the prosecution are themselves lacking in ethics.
Every job involves ethics, whether you are an MTNL linesman or the Nalco chairman. And every system has its checks and balances. A CEO can get away with corrupt practices only because the companys board and his colleagues are not bothered about them. Make no mistake; this is not something that can be kept under wraps. Your secretary knows. Soon, so does her friend in the packing department. They laugh over it at the water cooler; they joke at office parties.
In one so-called professionally managed MNC subsidiary, the staff used to give the boss a box of Swiss chocolates on his birthday. Have the cream-filled one, sir. Youll like it. The CEO had the cream without realising that his colleagues were referring to his alleged Swiss bank accounts. (He had a reason for not making the connection; when he was finally arrested many years later, they discovered that his stash was not kept in Switzerland but in his bedroom safe. How many people know how to open a Swiss bank account? Who can you ask?)
People who are corrupt have a short-term mentality. They believe they wont get caught and, sooner or later, will make enough to retire to a land of milk and honey.
Unfortunately, the honey has to be spread. You get much less than your original calculations. And, once on the Ferris Wheel, you cant get off.
If the top management has rigid principles, it is difficult to continue to be corrupt. But it is hard to find an organisation, in India or anywhere else, which has such high standards. If you look at newspaper headlines today, you will find that the most respected Indian business houses — and that includes some of the much-praised IT majors — have feet of clay. Definitions differ. Is it unethical to pay a trade union leader a huge salary? Is it unethical to hire a lobbyist to push your case in Delhi? It depends only on which side of the fence you are sitting on.
All organisations are unethical, says an aggrieved Shashi Rao, a Mumbai-based HR consultant. But there are grades of corruption. One of the biggest business houses has hired my services and then refused to pay my fees. She is equally angry with the MNCs who preach but dont practise. They have constantly been saying that the Indian environment forced them into corruption, she says. But now that Indian companies have started going abroad, they find those guys waiting with open palms. When they bribed Indian politicians, half the money stayed in their personal accounts. And these folks know full well how to open Swiss bank accounts. She feels that there needs to be a rethinking on how you define the most corrupt country in the world. Chocolates and cheese cant make you smell good for ever.
So does joining the rat race mean you have to don the ethics of a rodent? Not necessarily. You can be a white mouse, unambitious and unworried. You may miss out on some goodies, but you dont risk the traps too. The maximum life span of a rat is three years, although most barely manage one, says Wikipedia. A yearly mortality rate of 95 per cent is estimated. A white mouse can soldier on till six.
Clause 17 of the Tata Groups Code of Conduct
►Every employee of a Tata company, including full-time directors and the chief executive, shall exhibit culturally appropriate deportment in the countries they operate in, and deal on behalf of the company with professionalism, honesty and integrity, while conforming to high moral and ethical standards. Such conduct shall be fair and transparent and be perceived to be so by third parties.
► Every employee of a Tata company shall preserve the human rights of every individual and the community, and shall strive to honour commitments.
► Every employee shall be responsible for the implementation of and compliance with the Code in his / her environment. Failure to adhere to the Code could attract severe consequences, including termination of employment.