Our annual Benchmark Report always provides great insights into what’s on the minds of ethics and compliance officers, and this past year’s was no different. Probably the most interesting result from our 2017 survey was that out of 929 respondents, more than half (57%) cited, “creating a culture of ethics and respect,” as one of their top three ethics and compliance training program objectives. In fact, it wound up second on the list.
The irony of that choice is that all of the other objectives listed in our survey are usually achieved when a company’s compliance training program does create a culture of ethics and respect.
That finding aligns with what we’re hearing day-to-day from our clients. Whether we’re kicking off a code of conduct project or designing a compliance training plan, we usually don’t get too far into the conversation before the words “ethical culture” surface. Truly, it’s one of the most sought after objectives of a compliance training program – and yet it’s also the most elusive to define and the hardest to measure. So, all too often ethics and compliance officers then move down the list and focus on other objectives – such as comply with laws and regulations – that can be more easily accomplished and measured. The irony of that choice is that all of the other objectives listed in our survey are usually achieved when a company’s compliance training program does create a culture of ethics and respect.
What Is a Culture of Ethics and Respect?
But creating an ethical and respectful culture shouldn’t be such a daunting task that we shy away from it, especially when there are strategies and tools that can support the effort. At NAVEX Global we strive to create award-winning Codes of Conduct and industry-leading training solutions, but you and I both know that an ethical culture is not simply a code or a course. It’s not a communications campaign, a series of team-building exercises, or an inspiring message at an afternoon town hall. These components are the voice of the culture, the necessary expressions of the culture. But the culture itself is what results when all of these programmatic efforts manifest themselves in each and every action that an employee takes and every decision she makes. A culture of ethics and respect is what you get when every employee does the right thing when the moment to do so presents itself.
A culture of ethics and respect is organic – an expression in actions, words, symbols, stories and values that flows through an organization - from the boardroom to the mailroom and back again, and this expression doesn’t just instruct employees to do the right thing, it encourages them to do so. The culture empowers their actions; and their actions is what brings the culture to life.
There’s this palpable sense of pride that permeates an organization with a culture of ethics and respect.
There’s this palpable sense of pride that permeates an organization with a culture of ethics and respect. Company values aren’t just posted in the breakroom. They’re rooted in the way employees work and interact, and they’re evident in the decisions they make. People like working for companies where doing business with integrity is valued. I recall a conversation with a client recently where I asked, “How will you know if your ethics and compliance program is successful?” She replied, “I will be able to point to our employees’ ethical and respectful behavior and actions and say, ‘Look at this, this is our company, our Code, this is the expression of our culture.’”
Creating the Culture: More than a Poster, a Plan or a Program
From my perspective, it’s refreshing to work with companies that are not satisfied with just checking the compliance box. They’re looking for fresh approaches to creating a culture that will engage and inspire their employees. Often they start by rewriting and redesigning their Code of Conduct document so that it truly embodies and expresses their culture, in words and images, in look and feel, and not just by citing rules and regulations. Then, they make sure that their compliance training programs align and reinforce not just the letter, but the spirit of the Code. They provide their employees with engaging and memorable learning experiences that show employees not just the “what” of ethical and respectful behavior, but more importantly the “how” and the “why.” These companies want to know that long after training is complete their employees will recognize ethical dilemmas and thickets and know just how to respond, just as the culture has empowered them to. They also know that a code and a training program alone are not enough. Sustaining a culture of ethics and respect requires continual awareness and communications. Messaging from leadership and discussion at meetings is essential, but it has to be more than just empty talk. It has to show up in action, in the lived-in reality of the workplace.
For the 57% of survey respondents that put a premium on creating a culture of ethics and respect, the best is yet to come.
OK. I know, it sounds simple enough, but it’s really not all that easy. Ethics and compliance officers who are intent on creating a culture of ethics and respect face big questions and awesome challenges as they continue to develop and refine best practices for their code of conduct, compliance training and awareness initiatives. But if it’s the number one objective, it can and should be done.
I’m looking forward to sharing the answers, best practices and innovations we discover with these leaders in the months ahead. For the 57% of survey respondents that put a premium on creating a culture of ethics and respect, the best is yet to come.