Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's a Matter of Honor

It's a Matter of Honor - Updated

Morgan Stanley's in the News: "Securities regulators charged Morgan Stanley DW Inc. with failing to hand over millions of e-mail messages to investigators and plaintiffs by falsely saying that the documents had been lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, according to a complaint filed yesterday." -- The Washington Post.

Firm Accused Of Deleting Missing E-Mail -

Things like this seem to crop up sometimes in the news with regard to the big wire-house brokerages. All of them. Not just Morgan Stanley, which I presume is no worse than the others.

They will pay the fines, promise not to do that anymore, fire the culprit, and move on. People are usually held accountable within the organization, so what's the problem? Should the organization not also find and deal with the managers who tolerated those culprits, who promoted, incentivized them, or even supported them in the offending behavior? Is it that the management is not really accountable? Managers are supposed to know what is going on. They either know what is going on, or they are not up to the job. So who ordered all those emails to be deleted, or was silent while it was done?

I have a problem with organizational cultures which do not build in honor, and I don't think I'm alone. Old-fashioned honor. Honor as a prerequisite to advancement or even retention within the organization. It's easy to see if someone is tall, handsome, dresses well, has great connections, and is articulate; and those are not bad things. But they don't mean anything at all if there is no honor. It is not so easy for a manager to see if someone will tell the truth even when the organization doesn't particularly care to hear it. A manager would have to be on the hunt for distinctly honorable behavior, noting it, supporting it. If the organizational culture would see such conduct as foolish, then, well, what you have is an organization which will show up in the news at some point, and an organization which may do things which affect client financial outcomes.

This is pretty radical, I guess: Anyone who puts himself in the position of advising someone else on financial or investment matters should have a pretty serious case of values, and honor, and try very hard to do their work in a way that generally reflects those things. We are all of us imperfect, error-prone people, but there is such a thing as choosing to try to do your best to do things the right way.



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