The GC's Choice: Compliance or Self-Governance?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on August 22, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

John Stuart Mill, the political philosopher, wrote about Hobson's choice: either voting for a candidate or not voting at all.

But Thomas Hobson was not a politician. He owned horses, and offered customers the horses nearest to the stable door or none at all.

That's just a bit of history to give context to the general counsel's choice: compliance or self-governance? Is that really a choice after all?

Two Paradigms

In a Forbes article on compliance vs. self-governance, Carsten Tams offers a "brief history" on the two paradigms. He is a writer and business leadership consultant.

"Compliance management will lack effectiveness and produce compliance fatigue unless it is paired and balanced with ethics management," he said.

Tams claims the compliance approach is "deficit-based," because it sees employees as risk factors and aims to suppress unwanted behavior by prescribing rules, monitoring behavior, and punishing disobedience.

Ethics management, by comparison, focuses on workers' ability to act for the benefit of the whole organization. It focuses on supporting them to reach their capacity for self-governance, he says.

Horses, Horses

Mill, who lived two hundred years ago, said representative government was the best form of government.

He was speaking to the Founding Fathers, of course, not corporate America. But the Hobson's choice applies to both.

For good government, people need good representatives. For good businesses, people need to be good.

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