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Memo to Managers
Culture Building: Your Critical Role as a Manager
You may have heard the term “tone in the middle” and its importance in creating a culture of integrity. But why is it important? And what exactly does a middle manager, squeezed between the frontline and the top tier, need to do to create the right tone?
Why It’s Important
Employees take their cues from you. If something is a priority to you, it’s a priority to them. As their leader, employees look at your attitudes and actions to answer the questions, “What’s really important around here?” and “How do we really do things in this organization?” The way the workforce thinks, behaves and works is the very definition of corporate culture. And your behavior is a key factor in shaping the culture.
Intentionally building a culture that has a reputation for ethics and integrity is hugely important for many reasons. But one of the most compelling is that research has shown that ethical companies are more financially successful than others. In the recent Institute of Business Ethics report “Does Business Ethics Pay?” research revealed that ethical companies succeed due to higher productivity, more loyalty from customers and investors, the ability to attract and keep the best employees, and increased trust and improved collaboration with business partners.
What You Can Do to Create the Right Tone
While building an ethical organizational culture may feel like an enormous responsibility, it is a natural outcome of good management. It is also a primary goal of an effective ethics and compliance program, in which you already play a part. There are several things you can do to set the right tone and actively support the compliance program:
- Be intentional about the messages you send: Be aware of your words, your actions and your underlying attitudes. Saying or doing something that sends the wrong message, such as “Do whatever it takes to get that done,” or laughing at an off-color joke speaks volumes about the location of integrity on the priority list.
- Play a role in education: When it comes to compliance training, what is your attitude? You can support the initiative by explaining to the staff why it is important and take the training yourself. Periodically, bring in a news clipping or pick a code of conduct topic to discuss in a group meeting that is relevant to the risks the employees face. Model the use of the code and policies when helping an employee answer an ethics or compliance question. All of these actions set the tone about the importance of the ethics and compliance program.
- Manage trust: This means addressing wrongdoing appropriately and with consistency. Protect confidential information and avoid favoritism. Keep your promises; tell the truth; be respectful. Cooperate fully with investigations. All these behaviors build trust in you and in the system. Employees view the organization’s commitment to integrity through the lens of how they are treated. Your trustworthiness tells employees if that commitment is real or not.
- Respond to problems: Asking questions and raising concerns is an important compliance activity. As a supervisor, you are the top resource employees turn to with workplace questions and issues. Your key responsibilities in this role include being available to employees and listening objectively to their issues. Equally important is your duty to handle issues properly and promptly. Never forget to close the loop with the person who raised the concern. Your approach has the power to encourage employees to come to you with important issues or shut down the process.
- Be vigilant: Monitor your work group for signs of potential problems, such as increased employee absenteeism and turnover, poor morale, a decrease in number of voiced questions and concerns and decreased productivity. You may need to ask for help to dive into the causes behind these changes in employee behavior.
- Use your resources: If you need any assistance to properly address an employee question or concern or in handling signs of misconduct, reach out to any of the resources provided by the organization—including legal, human resources or your own manager.
As a manager, you play a pivotal role in building and sustaining our culture of integrity. Part of that role is supporting our ethics and compliance program. The outcome of your efforts will be a happier and more productive workforce and the increased economic success of our organization.
Questions of the Month
Q: Isn’t it the CEO’s responsibility to set the ethical tone for the organization?
A: Tone at the top is important, but it’s not enough. The people at the top of your organization must have the vision for an ethical culture and they must model it themselves. However, the message often gets lost or diluted as it travels down the chain of command. And employees have very little if any contact with the C-suite. They take their behavioral cues from their supervisors. In the healthiest organizations the message of integrity is openly and consistently sent by all levels of leadership. But when employees want direction on how to conduct themselves at work, they look most often to their supervisors.
Q: How does the company show the ROI for my active support of the ethics and compliance program?
A: While the ROI of supporting a strong ethical culture is not necessarily as clear cut as it is with other activities, it is still very significant. For example, in ethical cultures, absenteeism is lower and employees are more productive and engaged. In addition, organizations with ethical cultures are in a better position to avoid the lawsuits, government actions and reputational damages that come with ethical lapses. A productive, thriving culture, and all of the business benefits that flow from it, is strong ROI for managers’ time spent supporting the ethics and compliance program.
Strong ethics and compliance programs are no longer optional—they are essential. In this whitepaper, NAVEX Global shares the seven steps organizations need to take to ensure that they not only meet the requirements of standard-making bodies worldwide, but also establish a culture of ethics, integrity and compliance.
Using Compliance Communicator
Equipping managers with the skills they need to navigate the E&C challenges they face is critical. Use the content in Compliance Communicator to help keep compliance top of mind with your managers and strengthen your organizational culture. NAVEX Global grants you permission to publish any or all of the content to best suit your needs.
For more valuable content from our Advisory Services team, subscribe to our blog, Ethics & Compliance Matters™. You’ll find perspectives on the latest E&C trends that impact your program, and get insights on increasing program effectiveness.