What’s in a name?

The World Health Organization just updated its guidelines to name newly discovered diseases, viruses and variants.

The goal is to avoid negative impact on people, places, tourism and trade. It turns out that when you give a virus the name of, say, “Spanish Flu”, it doesn’t do much good for Spain and Spaniards.

Do you work in an organization where names are given to special compliance initiatives or projects? Do you use vague code names like “Project Maple”, or specific last names, geographic locations, or business unit names? If the latter, have you considered the possible negative impact on the employees covered by these labels?

If they knew

What would your mother think?

What if it were on the front page of the newspaper?

These two integrity tests apply strong emotional pressure.

But here’s a more subtle test, one that we can use for most interactions:

If the people you’re interacting with discover what you already know, will they be glad that they did what you asked them to?

Seth Godin, The Practice, #36

Investigations and trust

For Ethics & Compliance professionals, internal investigations are routine.

But for the average employee, they are not. Anyone participating in an investigation, either as a source, subject, or witness, will count the experience as one of the most emotionally-charged events of their career. They will remember where they were when the got the call from the investigator, and they will remember how nervous they felt when they entered the small, windowless conference room.

Investigators must therefore be as professional, fair, and kind as possible. In most cases, the employees they interact with will continue to work for the organization after the investigation, and they will share that experience with others.

Every investigative interview must be seen as an opportunity to build trust.

Catch a possible offense before it reaches your customer

Another songwriter is going back to the writing board for using an offensive term in a song.

This story reminded me of the importance of diversity within E&C when creating policies, training and various communications.

A diverse creative team is more likely to notice what could be considered offensive, not simply what is missing. If your company operates in multiple regions and languages, send a copy of your text to locals and native speakers before a mass distribution. And if your company has employee resource groups (ERGs), send them a copy as well. If you have unintentionally committed a faux-pas, they will let you know.

There’s a process for that

You can send an email to a new employee with a list of online course they need to complete, or you can meet face-to-face.

You can send a link to the corporate policy manual, or you can create job aids that ensure compliance with the policies.

You can write a code of conduct that reads like a bunch of rules, or you can describe the values you live by and the behaviors that go along.

You can keep the outcome of your investigations secret, or you can explain your rationale and show a fair and consistent process.

It should be clear that different processes lead to different cultural outcomes.

If you want a better culture, follow better processes.

If there is any part of your culture you don’t like, find the process responsible for it – and change it.

Are you getting what you pay for?

How much do you spend on online courses to educate your employees about ethics and compliance?

It’s not just the amount you pay to the course provider (internal or external), but also the time spent by the E&C personnel to administer the training platform, and the salaries of your employees while they take the training. In large corporations, the last item can be in the millions of dollars.

At the end of every course, employees should be asked “Will you be able to perform your work more compliantly as a result of taking this course?”

Compare the survey results to the amounts your are paying, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.


P.S.: Most companies don’t want to know.

Culture: the new competitive advantage

For many years, the burgeoning compliance community tried to convince corporations that compliance was important. The message finally got across when regulators made it clear that non-compliance was more expensive than compliance.

And now, a new generation of E&C professionals is trying to convince companies that compliance programs, on their own, are not enough and must be augmented by an ethical culture. This message will soon get across, as business leaders realize that investors are losing their appetite for companies that ignore their people and the planet.

Doing the right thing is now a competitive advantage.

Would you quit over this?

Should you quit your job if your legal or ethical advice is not followed?

Usually not. In a company, lawyers and ethics officers are often viewed as advisors. A CEO is always at liberty to proceed against their advice is she so desires. If a lawyer advises against opening a satellite office in South Soudan because of corruption concerns, the business is free to proceed. And the lawyer should not necessarily quit.

But sometimes advisors need to fire back. This week, nine members of the Ethics Board at Axon resigned after the company decided to move ahead with its plans to develop Taser-equipped drones for police forces, against the Board’s recommendation. The resignations paid off, and the company’s plans were halted.

I admire the bold move. It was the only move left to protect the company from making a grave mistake. Think back of previous scandals, and many could have been avoided if those who silently spoke up internally had made a noisier public exit (Note: I am mindful that noisy public exits can also be costly for whistleblowers).

A part of me hopes that we see more of these courageous acts in the future. Another part worries that companies might simply stop creating ethics advisory boards.

Not an overnight change

Culture will not change right after we announce our intention to change it.

That new action we believe will improve the culture, we’ll have to perform it repeatedly over years, until people believe that “this is how things are really done around here.”

If the percentage of female executives has been below 10% for ages in our company, and we announce an intention to do better, will women believe us if the percentage jumps to 12% the next year? Probably not. But if it steadily climbs every year and settles at 50% for a long period of time, somewhere along the way the culture will shift.

The same idea applies to how we change any aspect of the culture – how transparent we are, how inclusive we are, how much we support each other, and so on. It requires that we pay attention, that we listen, that we have a clearly-stated and meaningful goal, and that we take massive and sustained action.