Year of the Rat

February 7, 2008 at 11:18 pm Leave a comment

February 7 is the lunar New Year.  As I’m sure you’re aware, this date also ushers in a new animal.   We have come to the Year of the Rat.  

I suffer from the typical Westerners knee-jerk reaction that “rat” is an unfortunate sign for an entire year, let alone to be born under.   So, I’m looking for evidence that this year might be better than the animal indicates to me.

Then I read this headline Survey Finds Corporate Business Ethics Back to ‘Pre-Enron Levels’ from the Fulton County Daily Record.  The gist is that according to The Ethics Resource Center’s 2007 National Business Ethics Survey we’ve made little progress in institutionalizing formal ethics practices, confidential reporting programs, etc. that were all the recommendation rage following Sarbannes-Oxley.  

Although we have successfully created entirely new lines of business focused on GRC (governance, risk, and compliance), we successfully haven’t changed the essential nature of people.   That is, there will always be a few of us who want a more without more work. 

It really is the year of the rat.

But I know it’s my bias against rats that’s making me cynical.  There has to be more to this year.    

At least one site notes that the rat characteristics are “charming, hardworking, intuitive, gossipy.”  Not so bad, I guess.  

And I just read a review of  Cynthia Cooper’s new book.   Ms. Cooper, who was the WorldCom internal auditor whistleblower, recounts in her new book how she uncovered the truth behind the spreadsheet.   Essentially, she didn’t understand some of the terms being thrown around, so she asked.  Here she is, doing her job, and she hears terms she doesn’t know.  She asks the first person to explain the term, and that person replies with “I don’t know what it means.  I was told to do it.”  So when that person can’t explain the term, she asks another.   Then another.   Until the veil is lifted and the emporer has no clothes.

So simple.   So powerful.  

As we deal with our compliance and regulation record keeping, it’s worth keeping in mind that the regulations and the systems aren’t going to catch the lapses.  The Rats are.  Hardworking, intuitive rats.   Who want to understand what the reports mean, not just that the reports are complete. 

Happy New Year — may a rat bring you prosperity and joy.  

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