Integrating Holistic Ethics and Compliance

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lindsay Walker

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There’s no point investing in and implementing an ethics and compliance program unless the time is spent integrating the program into every aspect of an organization.

The need for companies to develop effective ethics and compliance programs has been acknowledged by several government agencies- examples are the SEC in the US and the government in the United Kingdom.

Both groups have recently passed legislation or made amendments to existing guidelines, focusing heavily on the importance of ethics and compliance at all levels of an organization- especially at the top.

Employees at each level contribute to the success of a company’s ethics and compliance program. Integrating ethics and compliance at each level helps ensure the message from the top makes it all the way down to the lower levels of the organization.

Training, messages and other ethics and compliance initiatives must be developed to evolve with employees as they move through the company. That being said, employees at various levels need to be prepared to address different ethical issues they may encounter based on the role they play in the organization.

Integrating Ethics at the Top

The tone of the organization is set at the top, therefore, a strong commitment and understanding of ethics and compliance must be instilled in top level executives and managers.

Ethics and compliance must be built into a company’s corporate culture, as culture determines “the way things are done” within an organization. Top level executives serve as examples for fellow employees.

Those at the top must frequently communicate and demonstrate to their staff the company’s commitment to ethics and compliance, as well as ensure ethics and compliance are built into all company projects.

Top level managers must adopt and act on the values and messages they communicate to be considered credible in committing to ethics.

If your company hasn’t done so already, establish the role of a Chief Ethics/Compliance Officer (CECO). This person will be responsible for maintaining and executing ethics and compliance related activities (policy development, training, policy enforcement, program monitoring) to ensure company compliance with laws and regulations.

One of the areas many companies must improve on is providing the CECO with appropriate resources and authority to effectively carry out their mission. In many organizations, the ethics and compliance department is relatively small in comparison to the total number of employees at a company.

With the recent economic downturn, a number of companies were forced to reassess budgets, cutting ethics and compliance spending at a time when it was needed most. Don’t create positions or policy documents for the sake of looking good in the eyes of the public- the public can tell if a company is faking it.

Integrating Ethics in the Middle

In many companies, employees report that the middle level is where ethics and compliance commitments break down. Since many of the lower level employees report directly to those in the middle, a commitment to ethics and compliance from middle managers is equally as important as it is at the top.

Top level managers can use a number of techniques to assist mid-level managers in understanding the role they play in creating an ethical workplace. In the article “Ethics and the Middle Manager: Creating Tone in The Middle,” by Kirk O. Hanson, the author lists 8 ways top management can motivate middle level employees to reinforce an organization’s ethical culture:

1. “Top executives must themselves exhibit all the ‘tone at the top’ behaviors, including acting ethically, talking frequently about the organization’s values and ethics, and supporting the organization’s and individual employee’s adherence to the values.

2. Top executives must explicitly ask middle managers what dilemmas arise in implementing the ethical commitments of the organization in the work of that group.

3. Top executives must give general guidance about how values apply to those specific dilemmas.

4. Top executives must explicitly delegate resolution of those dilemmas to the middle managers.

5. Top executives must make it clear to middle managers that their ethical performance is being watched as closely as their financial performance.

6. Top executives must make ethical competence and commitment of middle managers a part of their performance evaluation.

7. The organization must provide opportunities for middle managers to work with peers on resolving the hard cases.

8. Top executives must be available to the middle managers to discuss/coach/resolve the hardest cases.”

Integrating Ethics at Lower Levels

Lower level employees are usually the ones on the frontlines acting as ambassadors for a company/brand. Ensuring the commitment to ethics and compliance is as strong at the bottom as it is at the top is critical to the success of a fully integrated ethics and compliance program.

One of the easiest ways to begin implementing ethics and compliance within lower levels is to provide new hires with extensive training on company expectations and ethics and compliance. During the interview process, ask questions related to ethical situations and decision making.

This can be used as a way to ensure new hires are a proper fit with the existing corporate culture. It’s important to remember that ethics training and implementation doesn’t stop here- this is just the beginning.

An Ethisphere article, “If Ethics Isn’t Everywhere, It’s Nowhere,” reviews some of the tactics deployed at Jones Lang LaSalle to ensure ethics is integrated into every level of their organization:

“We begin the process by mentioning ethics in our offer letters. We continue by having new hires read and agree to our Code of Business Ethics, which has been translated into 14 languages. And employees see ethics posters displayed in lunchrooms and receive wallet-sized reminders at meetings.

To further entrench our ideals in the minds of employees, our Ethics Officers attend business meetings and lead discussions with employees about ethical dilemmas. These sessions require active participation because we don’t just want a ‘talking heads’ presentation with a forgettable PowerPoint.

To receive a bonus, everyone, including me, is required to re-certify to his or her commitment to the Code of Ethics. The norm, as you can well imagine, is 100% compliance. When employees leave the firm, we send them a reminder about their on-going obligations regarding confidential client and employee information they received while employed by Jones Lang LaSalle.”

©Lindsay Walker is a writer for the i-Sight Investigation Software blog at Customer Expressions. The i-Sight blog focuses on ethics and compliance news, policy development and amendments, industry best practices and investigation tips and techniques. i-Sight provides customized case management solutions for HR, employee relations, corporate security, privacy and ethics and compliance investigations. She can be reached at LWalker@customerexpressions.com.

Cross-posted from I-Sight

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