“Should you market the ethics & compliance culture of your organization?” & Three Questions with Erica Salmon Byrne

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There are both potential positives and negatives when you market or publicly announce your particular commitment to compliance and ethics. Or as more organizations are doing in recent years, seeking to certify that their program meets certain standards.

Let’s focus on a couple of the potential downsides or negatives. When you market your program as being a “best practices” program you need to expect that external forces and maybe even some internal forces will want to investigate. Be prepared to support and show that the program does indeed meet the standards. This may seem obvious, but beyond the hallmarks of the Sentencing Guidelines for an effective program there are a lot of “best practices” in existence that go above and beyond the guideline standards. If you are going to hold up your compliance program as a “best practices” program either through a formal certification or otherwise then you need to make sure that the homework has been done. You will want an assessment that goes through the organizational program piece by piece and thoroughly benchmarks the program against peer organizations. Don’t be caught in a situation where you are called out for not meeting “best practices.” The second potential downside is commitment to the program. If you are going to promote the effectiveness of your program you have to remain committed to applying the resources and time to assure that that program remains a “best practices” program. Once you publicly commit to the notion that the program is a “best practices” program, there is no going back. This may be a good thing if you’re trying to continue to encourage resources and enthusiasm for the program across the enterprise. But it’s a consideration before you embark on any kind of certification process or any kind of public acclamation of the success of your program. I’ve seen this go awry when an organization puts together a program they believed was a “best practices” program. It included a lot of resources including regional compliance officers, compliance committees and consistent and detailed procedures which includes certifications that these individuals had to engage in on a regular basis. The problem surfaced down the road when the organization had to cut. They cut the committees and regional compliance officers with very specific responsibilities but it was still documented as part of the program. At year-end, when the certifications were presented to the Board of Directors, they were inaccurate. The resources had been cut because the program at least in that incarnation had been unsustainable. So that’s what you don’t want to get into. You don’t want to report to have a program that has certain aspects or meet certain standards, if that’s not something you willing to continue. Another potential downside is employee perception. If the proclamation of an effective compliance program or a positive ethical culture doesn’t jibe with the perception of your employees they’re going to sense the disconnect. You will want to make sure that your evaluation of the relative success of the program jibes with the perception of the employee base. It’s like anything else, if management is proclaiming something that the rank and file do not perceive to be accurate then it’s going to ring hollow and that will obviously engender some problems internally that might affect reporting down the road. It certainly also could affect the employee’s overall negative perception of the program itself.

The upside and potential advantages when you market the success of your program or market the organization culture can affect both internal and external stakeholders.  Externally, the stakeholders, whether it be shareholders, regulators or the public at large look to organizations to have an ethical culture. They expect organizations to comply not just with the letter of the law but have an effective compliance and ethics program. There are some real advantages to tout the relative success of the program. This can increase stakeholders desire to work or even partner with an organization if the overall image and brand is positive. Having an ethical culture positively impacts the image and brand. Internally, the perception of the culture is very important. I’ve talked about this culture in other podcasts and will continue to do so in the future. A positive perception of the culture impacts reporting, morale, employee retention and employee recruitment. It keeps the employees happy and content in their roles and also allows them to feel that concerns are taken seriously if the organization has culture that promotes organizational justice for example.

Lastly, another important consideration or upside is to generate interest and exposure to the compliance and ethics program itself. Many compliance officers struggle communicating to the base and getting them interested in training or interested in new code of conduct or some other initiative. Many organizations will undertake a compliance week or other initiative but, marketing the culture of the organization as a success or having a program certification that puts a stamp of approval is another way to internally market the program. This generates interest and that’s never a bad thing.

The Upshot

If you’re going to market your program’s success either internally or externally be prepared for some scrutiny, be prepared to support that the organization meets “best practices” and most importantly be prepared to continue on the long hard slog to keep the program up to snuff.

Three Questions with Erica Salmon Byrne, Ethisphere Institute

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