Future tense

January 24, 2005

Change can be, well … unsettling. By definition, change makes things different, results in something new. And the unfamiliar brings a sense of uncertainty.

Change can be, well ... unsettling. By definition, change makes things different, results in something new. And the unfamiliar brings a sense of uncertainty.

NEMA's new code of ethics is like that. Unfamiliar. Adopt it, and the old way of doing things officially goes out the window.

Those basketball games at the arena, the box seats at the stadium, the back nine with a stop at the 19th hole. Forget about it. Companies have to be a little more careful. At least they should be.

NEMA has put together an ethics code for the 21st century, one that recognizes that the wining and dining that was once commonplace is no longer acceptable. NEMA execs say the code, which took effect Jan. 1, will go a long way toward protecting businesses - and their customers - from federal prosecutors. If, that is, NEMA member companies use it to guide their behavior. Federal prosecutors so far have paid little attention to the imaging community, but they could turn a sharp eye in our direction at any time.

But, really, the code goes much deeper than protection. It is, in essence, an admonition against a facet of human nature that has been indulged for too long. Peel back a few layers, and you'll quickly pass the point where right and wrong are debatable.

One can argue, rather effectively, that attending a sporting event or playing golf is little more than schmoozing. No one is going to throw a multimillion-dollar sale to one company or another for something so trite. But then there are the details: the family and friends who come along to these events, the all-expenses-paid "training" and "educational" junkets to sunny climes in the dead of winter, the "donations" made to medical facilities, the "consulting" fees paid to department heads. Tthe devil most certainly is in these details.

There are uglier words to describe these activities, ones that aren't used in professional circles. Not even whispered. Not even joked about. Kickbacks. Bribes. These activities are the terrain of criminals, not business professionals, at least not in our business. But maybe they are - or, at least, maybe they have been.

I'm told U.S. businesses over the last few years have been cleaning up their acts. Many no longer do what had been so commonly done before. In this context, the NEMA ethics code bears witness to what has largely taken place already.

But it is also a warning to those who have yet to evolve into this higher form of professionalism. And it's a sign of the times, a sign that the future will not be like the past.