London Evening Standard columnist Anthony Hilton, writing in PRWeek UK, suggests that corporate attorneys no longer play the role of conscience of the organization, too often espousing a compliance mentality that enables companies to adhere to the letter of the law while veering dangerously close to violating the spirit of the law. He argues that the chief communications officer is replacing the general counsel as the conscience of the company.

From my perspective, everyone in senior management — or in the company at large, for that matter — has an obligation to build and protect brand and reputation by adhering to a strong set of values and an appropriate mission to create value for customers, employees, shareholders and society.  And in the companies where I was privileged to serve, the general counsel and corporate attorneys played a highly constructive role in that regard.

Having said that, it’s also true that the CCO is well-placed to play this role, and the best of them do so extremely effectively. In the Page Society’s new report, Building Belief: A New Model for Activating Corporate Character and Authentic Advocacy, we argue that the CCO has a responsibility to work across the enterprise to define and activate corporate character. When this is done well, companies are focused on doing the things that are consistent with their espoused character – in essence earning trust with everything they do every day. In this scenario, compliance remains important, but doing the right thing is never in doubt.

By Roger Bolton
President, Arthur W. Page Society