Listen so they will speak up

The problem with most speak-up initiatives is that they are rarely coupled with an initiative to show managers how they can listen better and take actions that inspire trust.

How well a manager listens to an employee who is reporting wrongdoing will determine how likely this employee is to speak up again in the future. Here are a few tips for managers:

  • Actively engage with your employees by asking follow-up questions and gather as much information as possible. This shows that you are taking your employee’s concerns seriously and are committed to understanding the situation fully.
  • Ensure that the employee’s report is kept as confidential as possible. Only share with those who have a need to know. This will help the employee feel more comfortable reporting the misconduct and will also reduce the likelihood of retaliation.
  • Be as transparent as possible about the steps you are taking in response to the employee’s report. This includes communicating with the employee about the status of the investigation and any actions taken as a result of the report (subject to privacy rules and common decency).
  • Share with the employee your understanding that reporting misconduct can be a difficult and stressful process. This can be done by actively listening to the employee and acknowledging their feelings.
  • Follow-up with the employee after the investigation to ensure that the employee feels heard and respected, and to check if there is anything else the employee needs.

The better we listen, the more they will speak up.

Time to get creative

Today I asked GPT3 to write a 200-word blog post about business ethics. It wasn’t original but it was surprisingly good.

In a few years, AI will be able to write codes of conduct, corporate policies, training modules, and probably answer many ethics questions from employees.

E&C professionals should embrace this fact and anticipate the changes it will create. The creative aspect of our job is what still remains out of reach for machines.

Do you know how to boost your creativity? GPT3 just served me 9 suggestions.

You might be in the majority after all

We’ve all heard it before: 80% of people believe they are above average.

Here’s another discrepancy uncovered by Princeton University: 80% of Americans support climate action but they think that only 37% of their fellow citizens agree with them.

If we asked employees in corporate America if they think that ethical business practices are important, I bet at least 80% would say yes. But how would they rate their fellow employees? Probably lower, fooling themselves to believe that they are a minority.

People tend not to act when they believe they are in the minority. As a leader, sometimes all you have to do is show your peers that they are in fact in the majority.

You have more power than you think

Many people feel powerless in the face of corporate wrongdoing.

The trick, often, is simply to do something. “Start where you are and do what you can,” as they say.

That’s what photographer Nan Goldin did after recovering from her addiction to Oxycontin. As a victim, she was enraged by the inaction of Congress and the Department of Justice. As an artist, she was also disgusted by the amounts of money that prestigious museums would accept from the Sackler family in exchange for their name to be engraved in marble. So she became an activist. And with nothing more than her determination, she applied pressure on the Guggenheim, the Louvre, the Met (among others) until they removed the obscene plaques bearing the Sackler name.

You will soon be able to learn more about her activism in a new documentary titled All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. In the meantime, what could you do to prevent or stop societal harm?

Is this data helpful?

This post is for E&C professionals who prepare slide decks at this time of the year to show “annual key metrics” to leadership.

This should sound familiar: you look at a chart and anticipate what questions leadership will have. Questions like “How does this compare to the previous 5 years?” or “What discipline were imposed for this category of allegations?”

And off you go preparing more charts. Each leading to more anticipated questions. And soon your deck becomes an exercise to answer questions from people who, at times, just like to hear themselves asking questions.

The only data that leadership should have is data that helps them make decisions, trust the current system, and anticipate what’s ahead.

If the data doesn’t do that, resist the temptation to include it.

HT to Seth Godin


Good parents don’t allow their kids to insult others.

Good schools don’t allow their students to bully others.

And a new lawsuit against Walmart reminds employers that they can’t allow their employees to threaten others.

The value of respect should be included in all codes of conduct and enforced by all employers. Left unchecked, disrespect grows from insults to threats to violence.

Action must be taken at the first sign of disrespect.

The real cost of a product

When we buy a gallon of milk, we pay for more than the milk.

The seller is passing on other costs, like packaging, transportation, milking equipment, etc.

As climate change approaches a breaking point, it is time to factor in other costs, such as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage related to the product.

We can no longer simply pay for the cost of making a product that is damaging the environment. We need also to pay for the associated cleanup costs.

Responsible companies will do this on their own, because it is the right thing to do.

And because governments are likely to get it wrong.

Adding ethics posters in your facilities can increase reporting

It’s election season in the United States.

Driving around your neighborhood, you would notice several small signs, planted in front yards, showcasing the names of citizens running for office.

While you might think that these signs are a waste of money (in the sense that they would not influence your vote), a study showed that they in fact can increase a candidates’ vote shares by 1 to 2 percent.

This fact got me thinking about the ethics and compliance posters that my company uses in our facilities around the world. The posters include the pictures of the local, regional and global ethics and compliance officers that support each specific facility. It also includes their phone numbers, along with the phone number for our confidential reporting channel. Could these posters, like the political signs, increase the percentage of employees reporting wrongdoing? I think so. By 1 or 2 percent? Hard to tell.

But whatever the size of reporting increase, these posters are worth it. If your organization doesn’t use posters, consider creating them. And as this NPR article suggests, keep the message simple to maximize impact.

The whole truth

My advice to employees who report wrongdoing to their ethics and compliance officer: tell the whole truth.

If you leave something out, it will affect your credibility. Once your credibility is affected, nothing you said, or will say, can be taken for granted.

The ethics officer you hoped would be your partner in righting a wrong will now have to doubt you every step of the way. Furthermore, she may lose some of her appetite to fight your fight.

If some of the facts are not helping your case, you should still disclose them up front. Don’t let your ethics officer find out from someone else.

Bad ideas

I probably come up with 10 bad ideas before I have a good one (if I’m generous to myself).

Chances are, our colleagues do no better. So for good ideas to surface at work, we need to welcome bad ideas.

What is your organization’s appetite for bad ideas? What happens to people when an idea, a project, or a big initiative doesn’t work? In some organizations, they throw a party to celebrate the lessons learned. In others, heads roll.

How safe is it to have bad ideas where you work?