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My Ideal Ethics Position
by Bruce Hamm


A career counselor recently asked me to identify my ideal ethics position in a company. She asked me to include details and be specific about duties, relationships and responsibilities. While sitting in my hotel room in Paris, France (where I'd been working the previous five weeks) I wrote the following, which is a result of that exploration.

I want to work in a place where my contribution to the overall goal is recognized. I want to put my fingerprint on the culture of an organization in a way that is unmistakable. Not like a smudge on a window that is highly visible but rather like the fingerprint on a doorknob. You know it's there, you just aren't aware of it unless you think about it. I want to work with others to set the values of the organization and make that vision a reality.

Every company needs a chief guide for ethics and values. I want to be that person for an entire organization from the Board of Directors, the CEO and other senior executives right down to the janitor who works the night shift emptying garbage cans and cleaning floors. I want to earn their trust so that they know they can come to me and get solid, practical advice about how to make their daily workplace ethical decisions.

What Would be My Duties?

All levels of an organization have an impact on its success. I want to work with those people to ensure we have the right ethical standards in place and that everyone in the company is following them. Do I expect perfection? No. Will I try to achieve it anyway? Yes, because anything we humans do, we can improve. That means that I would establish regular meetings to review the values and the support initiatives to see our people adopt those values throughout the culture of the company making them a reality in our daily work lives.

Working with both the Board of Directors and the CEO is a goal. I would want to meet with both on a regular basis to report on the direction and efficacy of the values programs. I'd want to be involved with any large scale discussions about company direction, policies, acquisitions & mergers, etc. only in so far as to offer my professional opinion on those discussions in an ethical context.

Being a good wordsmith, I would write articles about the values and situations that might arise calling those values into question. In other words, I would write case studies (either real or fictitious) that would help illustrate the values so our people can learn about them in practical ways not just as an academic exercise. The wording of the company's values is important and I want to be the chief architect of those values and the words that express them. I would also write the policies for ethics management in the company.

I want to answer the phones of the ethics guide line during the normal work day, to take the initial call from people who either are reporting suspected ethical lapses or want advice about how to make an ethical decision in the workplace. Other methods of communication could be email, fax, inter-office mail or drop box.

I would investigate any report of an ethical lapse. I would bring my considerable talents to bear to uncover all the relevant details and use my wisdom to ensure that the person or persons either learn the lessons required and adjust their behavior or are disciplined appropriately for failure to do so. That could mean anything from writing a letter of reprimand and placing it in their record, adding more training to their schedule, establishing a corrective action program with the person or persons involved, demoting them, moving them to another position or geographic area, terminating their employment or sending the case to prosecutors all depending on the circumstances. I would want the authority to suspend any individual (even at the highest levels) pending the outcome of an investigation based on the severity of the allegation. I would want the authority to review any final discipline or resolution of any ethics incident.

For the relationship I want to establish with the people in the company, I want them to feel comfortable either coming into my office to chat or calling me, email, or any of the open channels I will establish to create that atmosphere. I will have lunch in the employees break rooms whenever I can, eat in the company cafeteria, lunch in the executive dining room, etc. I want to be approachable and thus will have a web page with ethics office information including a picture and bio of all the people working in the ethics office.

A deputy ethics officer (depending on the size of the organization) is someone I would like to choose from inside the company. I would train that person to operate as an independent force when I am away or in conjunction with me while I am at the office. That person would serve as my backup when I travel for business or take time off (vacation, etc.). I would nurture their career where they would actually be in demand elsewhere and I recognize if I do things correctly, I may lose these people in time because they are so valuable.

Interacting with external entities like law enforcement, regulators, etc. with the sanction of company management is part of this process. I would like to give speeches and talks to external entities, even represent the company in the news media, under the right circumstances. I'd like to be the public face of our values only in so far as I am the contact point (the company's people are the real face of our values - that is the culture I want to build). Another area where I'd like to interact is with both academic and professional resources in the corporate ethics community. They offer a tremendous amount of collective knowledge and support. They would be a resource that, if we (the company I work for) work with them vigorously, we could establish a great relationship and provide mutual support toward the success of our organizations.

I want to have a relationship with executive management that says that if I ask for something, they know they can rely on it being something that is vital to the success of the program. They'll be able to trust my judgment when it comes to requesting resources, whatever those resources might be.

Why do I think I can do all this? I've been a police officer; US Navy Combat Operations Specialist; a manager of a hazardous waste and chemical transportation facility where I directed compliance and investigated worker accidents, spills, contaminations, and vehicular accidents. I've managed a testing group for an Electronic Funds Transfer provider where my department successfully tested over 800+ clients for Y2K managing a budget of over $2 million. Now I'm an adjunct instructor for a non-traditional university, teaching business with a heavy emphasis on business ethics. While it's just getting off the ground, I also run my own business, consulting with companies about their ethics concerns while working full-time in another field.

Can I be a company's Chief Ethics Officer? Yes. With my education and experience, I can give a company a superior ethics and values program, one that both protects the company from rogue employees and drives the company's culture to support its goals.

"Chief Ethics Officer" - the new "CEO" - perhaps it's time! Great work Bruce! (ed.)


The Author

Bruce Hamm

Bruce Hamm studied for the Catholic priesthood obtaining a BA in philosophy with an emphasis on ethics.  He has experience as a volunteer police officer.  He has over eight years in US Navy combat operations, coordinating a tactical data link between various battle group elements, controlling combat aircraft and instructing combat operations.  Then entering corporate management, Bruce conducted numerous workplace investigations, managed compliance for one employer and developed a Business Ethics program for another.  In 2001, he completed the “Managing Ethics in Organizations” Executive Development Course from the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College and the Ethics Officer Association.  Combining his practical understanding of how organizations work with his desire to create healthy corporate cultures, he earned an MBA in Organizational Effectiveness at Marylhurst University.  Bruce is now also an adjunct instructor with DeVry University Online teaching Business Ethics and other general business topics.  Bruce is WatchIT’s Business Ethics and Compliance, Subject Matter Expert.  With two other professionals, Bruce was instrumental in the formation and continuing development of The Greater Omaha Alliance for Business Ethics.  Contact Bruce at and visit

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