“…companies used to bring in binders full of their policies….I really don’t care what the policy says….I’m more interested in how the policies actually operate.”
That’s a quote from Hui Chen from an interview with Bloomberg BNA. Hui Chen is the former compliance counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). She is also the author of the DOJ’s Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs published earlier this year. Considering people whose opinion can define compliance effectiveness, there are few more powerful than Chen’s.
In her quote, Chen is alluding to the importance of organizational culture and how policies operate as an important component of a more expansive ecosystem of compliance. This ecosystem approach ensures that individual segments of your compliance program do not operate in a vacuum, but are integrated into every other function of your ethics and compliance efforts. The result of this integration is a strong culture that is manifested throughout the entire organization.
Read More: Reflections on My Interview with Hui Chen on Compliance Program Effectiveness
So what operationalizes policies? The answer is twofold.
Operationalization Starts with a Framework
First, we do need a binder full of policies. At NAVEX Global we believe this “binder” needs to be an automated, centralized management solution full of updated policies. This creates the framework of your organization’s compliance program. This framework then needs to be full of policies and procedures that are both relevant and influential. They need to go beyond simply words on a page and instead properly package guidance in ways that effectively transfer concepts into the minds of readers. The best example of this is your code of conduct. Your code is your corporate constitution. It puts a stake in the ground saying this is who we are as an organization and what we strive for. Without proper relevance and clarity, the “who we are” becomes ambiguous to employees and, importantly, to prosecutors.
Once messaging is buttoned up, your policies must be able to be evoked easily and navigated intuitively by employees. Findability and search-ability are key to ensuring expectations and standards are not out of sight and out of mind. Employees should engage with these documents like reference guides to be consulted when needed, rather than miscellaneous paperwork to be filed away.
This is the first step to operationalizing policies. The DOJ’s guidance clearly delineates that prosecutors ask organizations about the design, accessibility and operational integration.
So, if a “binder full of policies” was acceptable, this would check the box. However, it is not.
Embedding Your Framework
The operationalization described above ensures that written documents are accessible to employees. It does not, however, ensure the concepts within those documents are absorbed and adopted by employees. This is what drives behavior change and increases the ROI of culture.
To borrow a concept from marketing, policies and procedures represent a “pull” mechanism. Pull mechanisms create informational centers for consumers or, in our case, employees.
Employees are required to know the guidance and expectations included in their organization’s policies and procedures and are, therefore, pulled to that information when they need it.
There is a certain threshold, however, when employees feel they no longer “need it.” This is why “pull” materials alone are not sufficient. For customers we offset this with marketing; for employees, we deploy effective compliance training programs. Compliance training acts as a “push” mechanism. It brings the content of our policies to employees regularly so that critical organizational guidance does not live and die on a page.
Effective ethics and compliance training pushes the value of policies and procedures to employees in the form interactive scenario-based learning experiences tailored to their jobs. This turns a reader into a learner and, ultimately, an ethical employee. Mature, advanced programs do this through multiyear training plans to support attestation cycles and they reinforce organizational and regulatory expectations.
In short, policies and procedures say something – training ensures the right people hear it at the right time. That’s a fully operationalized binder full of policies.
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Is your program basic, reactive, mature or advanced?
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NAVEX Global is the exclusive online ethics and compliance training partner of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)