Drag

Drag is everywhere in business.

Every time an employee is unable to produce or sell or make a decision, drag is created.

A good compliance program reduces drag. With a simple code of conduct and clear policies, employees understand what is expected and how to do it.

A good ethical culture is even more effective. By creating trust, employees are willing to take calculated risks, which lead to innovation, which in turn allows a company to outperform its competitors.

Do you know someone who blames the E&C department for slowing down business? Tell them to think again.

If it’s broken, can you fix it?

A few years ago, the third brake light on my wife’s Toyota died out.

I went on YouTube, found a video showing how to change that bulb, paid $4 at my local hardware store for a set of two, and installed the new light in less than 10 minutes.

You can learn to fix a lot of stuff on YouTube. The problem we face today is that more and more manufacturers are adopting practices that prevent people from making their own repairs. This is leading to significant environmental waste, at a time when the same companies are touting their low manufacturing carbon footprint.

Check out this interesting TED Talk on the topic. Then look at the products that your company is producing. Are they built to last? Are they repair-friendly? What type of waste will they generate at the end of their life cycle?

Metrics that answer questions

This post from Seth Godin could have been written for ethics and compliance professionals who regularly scramble to create charts for the next board meeting.

Those charts are often filled with output metrics and lagging indicators that beg more questions than they answer. Those metrics are used because they are easy to track.

If I show you a chart that tracks my daily body weight (output metric), and you notice a trend or spikes, you will immediately ask for details about my nutrition and exercise (input metric). Keeping track of my weight is easy. Keeping track of my caloric intake and outake is a lot more work, but that’s where the answers are.

The next time you look at the chart that tracks the number of calls to your helpline, ask yourself how helpful it is (it’s not, at least not on its own). Then find something useful to measure.

Using policy summaries as a gateway to the real policy

We all wish that our employees would read our corporate policies, but we know that most won’t.

In response, we often write snazzy policy summaries, and we try to cram all the essentials on one page.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t increase the number of employees who actually read your policies.

There is a middle way. You can write summaries that entice, or even force, employees to go to the actual policy for critical information. For example, you can write in your summary that employees can accept gifts under $50 with their supervisor’s approval, but for higher-value gifts, they need to consult the policy for approval levels. The trick is to leave out of the summary critical elements, and to tell employees where to find them in the policy.

Writing policy summaries is great. Writing them in ways that channel your employees to the actual policy is even better.

Focus on the inputs

If you eat reasonable portions of whole foods every day, exercise moderately for 30 minutes, and get sufficient rest, you will reach and maintain a healthy weight. Track those inputs, because logging your weight on the scale is not nearly as helpful.

Similarly, if you write clear policies, offer task-based training, maintain open communication channels, respond quickly to inquiries, conduct thorough investigations, discipline fairly, and reward ethical behaviors, you will create and maintain an ethical culture. Track those inputs, because counting training module completions and reports of wrongdoing is not nearly as helpful.

Helping low-income neighbors

Yesterday the White House announced that it partnered with 20 internet providers to offer high-speed plans for $30/month or less.

High-speed internet is now considered a necessity, just like food, shelter and clothing. These low-cost plans will benefit those who also qualify for other government programs like food stamps and special heating oil rates.

Should companies wait for government programs to offer assistance to low-income citizens? I don’t think so. AT&T could have done this on its own years ago.

Should companies offer discounts only on necessities? No, and many of them already have discounts on “luxuries”. Movie theatre chains have long offered discounts to students and seniors, assuming that most members of these groups have lower income.

Are you a plumber? A website designer? A college consultant? Could you cut your rate in half for one low-income client? The answer is probably yes.

Some people volunteer at the soup kitchen once-a-month, and never offer low-income people a discount on their services.

Maybe it’s time for professionals to rethink how they can help their neighbors.

Find a cohort

Many organizations have “employee resource groups” or “affiliation groups”. Some even have “interest groups,” where employees can discuss video games or pickleball.

Are you a leader who cares deeply about the ethical ramifications of your work? Why not find a like-minded colleague and start a group? Talk about the ethical dilemmas you face as an organization, identify solutions, reach out to a third person, then a fourth, then a fifth…

If you have an ethics office, invite them to join – but own the process. This is not about delegating ethical decision-making.

It’s about ethical leadership.

Allies

Is your boss, or your boss’s boss, blocking your idea, or simply not supporting it, even though you have used your best arguments with them?

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with your idea, or with your arguments, or with them.

It could simply be that someone else needs to present the idea.

Find an ally.

Will you take responsibility?

We can lead with authority or with responsibility.

When no one has authority, someone usually claims responsibility.

But when someone has been given authority, others often shy away from responsibility.

When a company creates an Ethics & Compliance department, it authorizes them to lead in that domain. And, just like that, the rest of the company doesn’t feel responsible for compliance.

And still, most people working in Ethics & Compliance will tell you that they don’t feel like they have much authority. Not to the level enjoyed by Legal or Finance or HR.

So the work for most E&C practitioners is to give company leaders a sense of responsibility.

The responsibility to lead ethically.

Mainstream violence

First, it was students throwing rocks and chasing off campus anyone they disagreed with. Then, it was Democrats and Republicans vilifying each other, leading to January 6. Now, it is comedians being attacked on stage.

It used to be that people would simply not attend the lecture or the show they disagreed with, or just change the channel. Now, they are willing to commit assaults in front of live audiences.

As these events make the news, they risk becoming normalized. Once normalized, they enter the workplace.

Now might be a good time for corporate leaders to remind employees that violence in the workplace is not acceptable.