'Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking'.

Author:Baird, Harold
Position:A word from the president
 
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It's time to take the long view on business ethics. It's no coincidence that the first theme in our new series of CIMA/AICPA discussion topics is business ethics, and how it can add value to organisations. Business ethics is often referred to as "doing the right thing". CIMA likes to complete this phrase with the words: "even when no one is looking". To me, this strikes at the heart of the issue.

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In my February column, I made the point that ethics must be embedded into the DNA of an organisation if it is to have any real value. It is CIMA's contention that good leaders make it their duty to understand the particular ethical challenges an organisation might face and how they can be addressed. Once these priorities are identified, metrics can be put in place to ensure improvement continues in the long term.

But worryingly, a new CIMA/AICPA study indicates that there is currently quite a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. A global survey of almost 2,000 LIMA members, students and AICPA members found that while 80 per cent of our members' employers now have a code of ethics in place, only 36 per cent are actively monitoring and evaluating performance. More worrying still, it appears that business leaders are less likely to be actively engaged in reviewing and taking responsibility for ethical performance than they were at the time of our previous survey, in 2008.

A weakened "tone from the top" has serious implications for the overall ethical culture of the organisation. A change in direction is critical--particularly because our analysis also revealed that management accountants are feeling pressure from all sides.

On the one hand, our members are telling us that they are being asked to pay more attention to ethics through an increase in ethical codes, training and overall "ethical framing". On the other, they are telling us that there is greater pressure within organisations to act unethically. (This view has risen from 28 per cent in 2008 to 35 per cent in our most recent survey.) These pressures are at their greatest in emerging economies where there is the most competition - and perhaps more temptation to cut corners.

We believe that CIMA members have a key role...

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