In life, there are highways and there are parking lots. We know that highways have rules for how we use them. Traffic flows according to the type of road: two way, divided highway, interstates, one lane roads and so on. Then we have life’s parking lots. Some are side-open unmarked—park and drive any way and any where you please, an invitation to “interpret” the rules of the road. The there are the parking lots that are highly marked “entrance only,” “exit” and have all the guiding errors and signs for drive-thrus, motorcycle parking, bicycle racks, space for subcompacts, trucks and trailers and are little mini-nations of rules for how they want you to use the space.


Rules of the Road versus Parking Lot Behavior


On the highway most of us are reasonably law-abiding citizens, but in parking lots, let’s be honest: Do you sometimes go the wrong way? This may seem to be a strange and quite random question to ask, but it has an interesting parallel when it comes to doing business and compliance. As a consultant and an advisor on the compliance environment, I frequently observe that there are two sets of rules or perspectives for how things work. The rules of the road for “other people” and the behaviors of the parking lot interestingly parallel how people behave in their own businesses and organizations when the reality or cost of compliance comes into the equation.


For instance, when anyone sees or hears a news story about how a government contractor breached the rules and charged things at exorbitant prices, or didn’t deliver the quality of goods on a product, or follow the rules of the contract in some other way, there is outrage in the street. When many (not all) of the individuals have their own businesses and contract with the government, the same rules become “cumbersome” or “too costly” or “not fair” and so on. The rules they expected others to comply with are suddenly okay for them to not follow because of the “inconvenience,” “unreasonableness” or “costs.”


Risky Business


So I ask: in your business are you obeying the rules of the road or driving like you are in a parking lot? Are you speeding down the compliance highway and gambling that the “traffic cop” isn’t going to be on your route? Are you looking for parking lots to drive through to avoid the major highways and speed limits?


What will you do in your business if you are reasonably assured that you won’t get caught? Or if you get caught, do you think you may be able to “talk your way out of it”?


All too many businesses get to a point where they are not just pushing the limits because they feel they can, but out of what they see or feel is necessity. The business is perilously perched on the precipice of survival and needs every dollar it can get to survive and stay in business … and it devotes significant amounts of time toward figuring out ways to push the envelope and circumvent sound business and laws instead of devoting that time and resources to fixing the underlying problems in the business.


Ethics Are Core to Success


The bottom line for businesses and individuals is that you will live and die by your ethical standards. People observe how you conduct yourself. People will rush to do business with a person they know they can trust. Your opinion and contributions are more highly valued when you keep to your ethical principles.


Your organization, employees, colleagues and peers will judge you by your actions, not your words. Set standards for you and your organization and you will see the benefit both personally and professionally.


So ask yourself: “Am I obeying the rules of the road, or driving the wrong way in parking lots?”


Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

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