Ethical Cultures Build Trust Through Transparency
The most exceptional ethics and compliance programs understand the importance of being transparent when addressing employee concerns, seeing it as not just as the right thing to do but as a way to build trust and to create a values-based culture.
Data compiled by Ethisphere Institute from the 128 organizations named to its World’s Most Ethical Companies list for 2019 shows the best programs make it a point to communicate the results of investigations, with 95% doing so in some form.
The number of companies on the list that share investigation results with all employees rose to 34% this year, up 2.5 times from 14% in 2016. The number of companies on the list who make their results public jumped threefold, to 32% from 11% in 2016.
“One reason we see employees won’t raise concerns is that they don’t believe the company will do anything with it,” and the other top reason is fear of retaliation, said Ethisphere's Erica Salmon Byrne during a webinar last week.
Companies that lack transparency may have what Salmon Byrne described as a “black box” investigation process, where a complaint is lodged but the person making it doesn’t know what the process is, how long it should take, and may or may not be told what the results are, or even if the investigation is completed.
“Maybe somebody comes to talk to me if I’m a known reporter, maybe...somebody comes to me at the end of the investigation to say ‘Thanks so much, we really appreciate you raising this concern. We’ve looked into it and we’ve closed the investigation. I can’t tell you what happened but I wanted you to know we’re done investigating this particular issue,’” said Salmon Byrne.
“I don’t know who else was talked to. I don’t know on average how long it takes to close an investigation. A lot of companies have not historically done a great job with explaining the range of disciplinary actions available to them...so if I complain about [someone] and two weeks later they’re still here, I have the perception that nothing has happened.”
Some companies have acknowledged this is a problem and are working to be more open while maintaining the need for privacy. “That is a real need, you have to keep these investigations confidential,” she said. “The question is do you need to keep them as black a box as they currently are, or can you make the box a little brighter?”
Everyone loves a story
Companies can take this journey in smaller steps, sharing information with ever-widening levels of managers over time, until eventually all employees and maybe the public can see information such as how many days on average does it take to close an investigation, a breakdown of the different numbers and types of cases, how many from each business unit, substantiation rates.
This is relatively easy to do, as more than 90% of the companies that made the list use a tracking tool or case-management system to keep track of some or all reports and investigations. Another characteristic of high-performing E&C programs is the use of telling real-world stories to deliver and reinforce messages, even those cases that happened within the company. Ethisphere’s research found 91% of the companies on the WME list say they use real-life examples in their communications.
Salmon Byrne shared a story about how one company’s board and senior management dismissed concerns about #MeToo, saying they were certain nothing like that was happening at their organization. The ethics and compliance officer pulled data from the company’s harassment and discrimination investigations, then hired a local theater company to act out the actions described in the complaints before the company’s top 30 leaders.
The actors used the actual language described in the reports, and the impact on management was profound, said Salmon Byrne. “The feedback was tremendous. The whole crew took that experience back to their business units, and shared that, and helped people on their teams understand this really was something the company was concerned about,” she said.
It’s vital to tell good stories as well to reinforce successes and to call out employees making the right decisions. “These can have a tremendous impact with your ethics and compliance communications,” she said.
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