What do Physics and Ethics & Compliance have in common?

Today someone else called me a “thought leader” for the first time. Boy, did I feel flattered and proud for a moment. It was in a comment on my LinkedIn post about my activity as a lecturer at the TEiD Akademi on Ethical Culture and Leadership and on Measuring and Reporting on the Effectiveness of Compliance Programs.

Then it made me think. Why am I so passionate about these topics in particular? Why do they resonate so much with me?

I believe the main reason is because with my background in experimental physics, I am used to taking a scientific approach to understanding how things work.

And what drives me is still the same motivation that led me to study physics in the first place: I want to understand how complex systems work and how to influence their workings. Only the systems I am interested in have changed from elementary particles and the cosmos to complex socio-cultural-technological-economic systems: human beings and their behavior in modern organizations.

Why then culture and leadership? Because, as finally also the U.S. DOJ have realized with the publication of the new guidance for prosecutors to evaluate the effectiveness of corporate compliance programs, culture is at the core of effective ethics & compliance. And leaders has a prominent function in culture – even more so in high power distance cultures like Turkey, where I work. Effective compliance, meaning people in organizations behave in a way that doesn’t break laws and rules, is an outcome, nothing more. Risk-assessment, policies and procedures, trainings , internal controls, monitoring, investigations… all of these are just tools to achieve just that: compliant behavior. But it all starts with culture: values and beliefs, leadership, symbols, purpose, behaviors; as Geert Hofstede calls it: “collective programming of the mind ” or also “the rules of the social game”. And people are the agents and the subject of this culture.

With small models and hypotheses about how people behave, we can design and apply targeted interventions (experiments) and test the hypotheses by measuring the outcomes; and apply the insights to continuously improve the level of our Ethics & Compliance programs.

Here I am very close to W. Edwards Deming and his scientific approach to achieving continuous improvement, expressed in a nutshell as Plan-Do-Check-Act.

But in the end, the question remains why I am doing this. I think the answer is that to a large extent I am on a journey of self-discovery trying to understand myself through the world around me and how it “resonates” with me. Trying to discover and become my best self, become self-enlightened and to help others become enlightened on the way.

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