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ECI regularly publishes articles and op-eds by contributing writers. The opinions expressed and reflected in these articles are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECI.

by Steve Priest

Steve is Founder of Integrity Insight International, an ethics and compliance consulting firm.

(Context. I have been a white man my whole life. I have been a business ethics consultant half of that. Although I have done work in 51 countries, the majority of my work has been in the US and UK. These comments reflect that background.)

The murder of George Floyd took four people. One, Derek Chauvin, to press his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. The other three police officers to stand by and let it happen and even assist this unjustifiable crime.

Way back when Covid was the big news, and business slowed and reconfigured, I spent hours going through 30 years of my consulting files. I travelled down memory lane looking through old speeches and presentations. And was reminded of how often I used “The Rule of 88” to help companies calibrate their ethics and compliance efforts. Back then I called this approach “Saints, Criminals and the Rest of Us.” It worked then, and it applies to the Minneapolis Police Department, and your organization, today.

In every company about 10% of the employees are “Saints.” They will do the right thing no matter what.

Unfortunately, in every organization 2% of its employees are “Criminals.” These are people who will act in pursuit of their own interests or impulses regardless of rules or harm to others. 2% is an approximation. I have surveyed many employees about what percentage of their coworkers are bad actors and the dominant range is 1% to 6%. This squares with my experience. I am interested in what you think.

That leaves “The Rest of Us.” 88% more or less. We are the people who will do the right thing . . . if. If it is not too inconvenient. If we believe the company really wants us to. If we will be respected by our peers for doing so, not vilified or ostracized. If people who get ahead in the organization are perceived to be the good guys (women and men alike).

It turns out that the 2%-88%--10% rule has profound implications for your ethics and compliance program.

It means you don’t have to spend any resources on the Saints, except perhaps to clarify what the company’s expectations are. These employees will follow their own ethical compasses in any event, but it is good for them to know those of the company.

It also means that only very targeted efforts need be devoted to “Criminals.” Do quality background checks and screening to keep bad employees out in the first place. Fire bad guys. And define Red Flags so that auditors, HR professionals, software monitoring programs and, yes, the 88% will know concretely what behaviors are wrong no matter the level or position of the person. Unless you want a cop/auditor on every corner, which is not only economically unfeasible but culturally destructive—see Minneapolis above—there’s not much more you can do here.

The focus of your ethics and compliance efforts should be on “The Rest of Us.” All the things you learn about from ECI and conferences should be directed at this 88%. I will only add a few “lenses” as you do this.

  1. Look for and encourage the good. The 88% see themselves as fundamentally good people, and want others to see them that way. Make sure your tone lifts rather than questions. The exact wrong thing to do now for leaders of police departments around the country is to make their 88% feel like criminals too.
  2. Remind them of their power. Auditors can’t find all fraud. Safety inspectors can’t find all issues. Employees on the front lines are the ones in the know. Imagine what a difference three police officers could have made.
  3. In the end, accountability is the only organizational or leadership characteristic that matters. Codes of conduct, CEO speeches, training programs and Helplines are good. But if employees believe that the Company does not hold all employees accountable, the ethics program will fail. “Star” performers, high level employees and the “favored” ones must be held accountable like everybody else. That is the action that speaks thousands of words.

These days I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I joined about 2,000 others in a beautiful expression of American freedom of speech and assembly wanting our small city, and cities across the country, to get better. Hours later fewer than 100 people who had been marching with protesters started throwing rocks at police cars and shop windows. Unbelievably, almost the same amount of protesters linked arms and stood in front of the police as a barrier to the rock throwers. The power of “The Rest of Us” wasn’t enough, unfortunately, to stop all the bad actors. (The 5%, in this case.) But they made a bad situation much less bad.

The Rest of Us hold the power in your organization. They can make the bad less bad by preventing misconduct in the first place or calling it out quickly when it happens. And they can make the good much better by creating a culture of quality, service, innovation and excellence. Keep your eyes on that prize and we will all be better off.

By: Brad Fulton