Excerpt from LeaderLab

More Policies, More Problems

One of the more amusing bits of information hidden within the details of the Enron collapse was that they company had a written code of ethics. Not just any code. This was a 64-page book given to all employees. With so many written ethical policies, what could go wrong?

Gladwell wrote an argument in the New Yorker that often having too much information can be damaging. He uses the example of Enron, whose misdeeds were mostly public and because there was so much information, it was overlooked. I’d argue that the same is true for organizations and ethics. Ciulla (2004) argues that when organizations stress performance, leaders can be tempted to act unethical to meet performance goals. I’d add to that when ethics are written in complex documents, they are even easier to ignore. Compare Enron’s 64 pages to Google’s code: “don’t be evil.”

The presence of complex ethical policies is often an indication that ethical problems might be below the surface.

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