We asked industry experts, colleagues and compliance officers what they believe will be the top issues impacting workplace ethics and corporate compliance programs in 2015. We gathered their best thinking and prepared our annual summary of trending issues and the steps you should consider taking as you plan for the coming year.
The past year has added to our growing list of examples that prove the wisdom of the maxim: "Culture trumps compliance." In 2014 culture problems were cited as the root cause of ethics and compliance failures at a diverse sample of organizations including:
- General Motors: In the wake of recalls of 2.6 million vehicles and at least 30 deaths linked to defective switches, studies pointed to the lack of a speak-up culture and leadership that lost track of the importance of listening to employees.
- The “Bro” or “Brogrammer” culture in high tech firms: Whether they are in Silicon Valley, New York, Paris, New Delhi or Berlin, high tech firms continue to struggle to address allegations that the male-dominated industry too often embraces a sexist culture.
- Sports spotlight: The sports world seemed particularly susceptible to culture breakdowns in 2014. From conduct issues in football to basketball to investigations of corruption at the Zurich-based Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sports world was rocked by lapses in ethics.
- Government and higher education institutions: A “corrosive culture” was blamed for the failures at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs while a culture of silence contributed to embarrassing security breaches at the U.S. Secret Service. And now attention is focusing on the culture of several elite colleges and universities following charges of sexual assault and a failure of officials to take appropriate action.
Two Trends to Watch in 2015: Video & the Maturation of E&C in Vulnerable Industries
Unfortunately the culture-related cases from 2014 are in many ways all too similar to examples we have seen in the past. But this year’s case studies do call attention to two relatively new factors that we suspect will continue to be important:
1) The role of video and social media in exposing broken cultures: The video of a football player punching his girlfriend in an elevator and its immediate circulation via social media completely changed the narrative in this case and altered the way discipline was handled. Without the viral video it is doubtful the case would have created such a public outcry, or would have had such a reputational impact on the sports’ governing body.
While social media has been with us for years, this case highlights the impact of video, made possible by the omni-presence of security and cell phone cameras. There is literally no place to hide. While a picture is worth a thousand words there is no calculation for the power of a video that goes viral. Of course viral video can also be a tool for good: consider the remarkable success in 2014 of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
2) Many of the 2014 cases involved organizations and industries that have lagged behind in adopting rigorous ethics and compliance programs: Often these industries have claimed that they are too different from others and so unique that they alone can properly address their compliance and culture challenges. These industries—including high-tech, academia and sports—will continue to be vulnerable until they catch up and more fully participate in the ethics and compliance community.