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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are going to punish someone for bad behavior, you need to make sure that the punishment will deter similar behavior in the future.
Which is why the recent $150M fine on Twitter seems inadequate. The fine was imposed because Twitter, for 6 years, sold its users’ personal information to advertisers without the users’ knowledge or permission, just after promising the regulators (in 2011) that they would not engage is such practices.
During those 6 years (from 2014 to 2019), Twitter had gross profits of over $10B. Twitter doesn’t charge users for its services, so the vast majority of its revenue comes from selling advertising. This fine took away less than 2% of Twitter’s profits. I don’t call this a deterrent.
If someone stole $100 from the petty cash box and the punishment was to return $2, that employee – and all other employees – might actually be emboldened to do it again and again.
I expect that Twitter & Friends will be back in the news for similar behavior before long.