Compliance or Comfort Zone? The Work of Embedded Ethics in Performing Regulation

Journal of Business Ethics 131 (4):833-852 (2015)
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The effective implementation of regulation in organizations is an ongoing concern for both research and practice, in order to avoid deviant behavior and its consequences. However, the way compliance with regulations is actually enacted or “performed” within organizations instead of merely executed, remains largely under-characterized. Evidence from an ethnographic study in the compliance unit of a French investment bank allows us to develop a detailed practice approach to how regulation is actually implemented in firms. We characterize the work accomplished by compliance analysts who are in fact, “curving” the script of regulation within what we conceptualize as a “comfort zone”. Beyond agency, ethics appears as a key element in linking the “letter of the law”, which serves as a referential anchor to guide action, with the complex nature of specific situations. We analyze the way individuals and compliance teams cope with, interpret, struggle and in fine, perform regulation within this comfort zone. A particular interest is thus given to the work of embedded ethics in this process, as an enabler to partly recouple compliance with the regulated activity. We find that blind execution is not only impossible, but also devoid of meaning both from regulatory, risk management, and business perspectives in organizations. We highlight and characterize a hermeneutic dimension to this work, essential to effectively perform regulation in complex environments, and we suggest some directions for further research



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