23 March 2006

Enforcement (or: How to get uncooperative people to comply)

Following up on my previous post about the pretensions of “compliance professionals,” I’m going to recommend that you take a look at this great post (the first in a series of three) on the dos and don’ts of enforcement from the perspective of government regulators. (Full disclosure: I used to work for David Smith, who authors AHI’s USA weblog.)

For those unwilling to read the entire series, I give you the payload (offered in the third installment):

Rule enforcement: dos and don'ts



Within the rules as written

Based on a loose interpretation or memory

In writing

Solely verbally


Slowly and irregularly

After each occurrence



Unconnected to offense severity

In a measured escalation


To the letter of the documents


With forewarning

Out of the blue

Allowing chances to reform

Once and for all

Although “compliance professionals” ought to feel rather sheepish at picking such an embarrassing name for themselves, real law enforcement officers play a critical role, ethically speaking. Having good character means having good habits, and any set of habits must include both habits of commission (activities undertaken regularly) and habits of omission (activities avoided). Good rules (or laws) can provide an excellent starting point for the development of good character. But as David notes,

Written rules can never be better than their enforcement.

Ultimately, how you take your first steps on the path to virtue is less important ethically than the fact that they’re in the right direction. Getting “enforced” into the start of a good habit is largely equivalent, in the long run, to willing yourself into compliance. No matter who makes you do it, it’s never too late to start making those child support payments—you might end being a responsible parent. And it’s never to early to stop fudging your taxes. You might just catch yourself being honest when no one’s looking. And that’s good character.