Corruption is certainly nothing new, but as a society, we’re more aware of it and more likely to take allegations seriously.
Rather than sweeping accusations under the rug or dismissing complaints, companies are increasingly giving a voice to those who step forward with concerns.
But you might be wondering what you can do to prevent corruption and unethical behavior from occurring in your business in the first place. In other words, how can you encourage business ethics and foster a culture of corporate compliance?
1. Put your expectations in writing
For starters, you need a detailed policy manual, and more specifically, a written code of conduct and/or code of ethics policy. Employees need to know they can look to a reference for understanding what the business expects of them. This needs to be done in an official, trackable policy; otherwise, your ethics and compliance efforts will have no teeth.
2. Have a dedicated compliance officer
Once you have tackled the first step of creating written policies, you need a person responsible for overseeing your company’s ethics and compliance initiatives. This makes your entire ethics and compliance process run smoother. The key to an effective compliance program? Putting a Corporate Compliance Officer (CCO) at the helm rather than just a figurehead with no real power. In this designated role, the CCO serves as a champion of corporate integrity, ethics, and accountability—the cornerstone of a compliance culture.
3. Hold employees accountable
Accountability within your business is all about setting common expectations and holding all employees to these standards. By clearly defining the company’s mission, values, and goals – and developing policies such as a written code of conduct to reflect the mission, values, and goals – you are creating an ethical compliance culture.
Underscoring the importance of accountability in your business will help drive a proactive atmosphere of responsibility among employees at all levels, from the part-time hourly worker to the C-suite executive. When you promote organizational accountability, you build trust, improve performance, strengthen corporate culture, increase morale, and boost compliance.
The bottom line: you need to monitor how people are doing compared to what the expectation is.
4. Communicate clearly and consistently
The next step involves communicating your ethics and compliance efforts thus far to your employees. You might approach this in a variety of ways, from one-on-one and small group meetings to mass email distribution and phone conferences. Regardless of your communication methods, the goal is to convey your ethics policies clearly and consistently and make sure employees understand how these policies impact their jobs.
Workplace communication can be tricky, for sure, especially when you are trying to convey intangible “ethics culture” messages. But if you create a safe space for communicating, set clear norms (in terms of channel, frequency, and expectations), and do it consistently, you are boosting your chance for successful top-down, bottom-up, side-to-side communication throughout your company.
5. Implement ethics training
Just because you write a code of ethics policy, set expectations around it, and communicate all this to employees doesn’t always mean they get it. That’s where the training component comes into play.
It is vitally important that you train to your ethics policies. Just like “book learning” isn’t the same as “hands-on application of knowledge,” you need to provide training in a meaningful way. Sharing the policy with employees and telling them the why’s and how’s of ethics and compliance certainly lays a good base of understanding. But training employees on how each element of the policy specifically applies to the day-to-day jobs they carry out provides the real-world connection they need.
Furthermore, when you cover a topic regularly in training, you drive home its critical importance. Repeated conversations and training about ethics and compliance reinforces that your company takes them both seriously. Plus, the more you talk about ethics and compliance and train to their related policies, you are regularly equipping employees with the tools they need to act in specific situations.
The Ethics and Compliance Key
If you are truly interested in changing your corporate culture, your ethics and compliance efforts should not be a one-and-done approach. It certainly won’t happen with just a memo or written directive. And, perhaps most importantly, your motivation for change needs to be about more than covering your bases or reducing liability. It needs to spring from your desire to create a positive ethics and compliance culture that reflects your company’s mission, vision, and values. Start with your “why” to effect true, lasting change.