March 18, 2020
Cultures of Trust Matter Most During Times of Peril
They certainly will struggle through this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, but I bet organizations that worked hard to create cultures of ethics, trust, positive values, and transparency are surfing this tricky and confusing wave a whole lot better than organizations where the mission lacks buy-in, or where the culture is just words in a code on a shelf, or where contingency planning was something to be done next week.
Business executives are grappling with questions such as how to keep their people safe, how to deal with the fears and uncertainties people are experiencing--and how that may lead them to make bad decisions. They are working to strike a balance between showing deference to the present circumstances, while being ready to get back to business without fear of offending sensibilities.
Robust ethics and compliance programs have enlightened and aspirational codes of conduct that serve more than window dressing, that do more than outline what can and can’t be done, that serve as a way to encourage ethical behavior, whatever the situation. They help to guide employees when they are unsure, or when a situation is so unusual as to create uncertainty.
Strong E&C programs also have in place the infrastructure to deal with crises--everything from plans for work-at-home scenarios, to the cybersecurity risks working from home bring; to having communications and messaging to maintain employee engagement and morale; to keeping the board and executive leadership informed, among others.
None of that lessens the burdens of dealing with the new realities of the world the coronavirus is forcing upon us all, but having a comprehensive risk management and mitigation plan--built on the strong and regular communication of the shared values that form the basis of an engaged culture--allows for all the focus and resources to be deployed to dealing with COVID-19 and its many impacts.
That allows companies to spend more time on what is urgent, and not on first putting a plan in place, and then operationalizing that plan, which should result in a strategic and competitive advantage. These same forward-thinking organizations are more likely to begin planning for what to do once this pandemic ends.
Trust is the glue that binds a culture together, my colleague Kathleen Brennan wrote in a recent LRN blog post. Training and communications are the way trust messages are reinforced. Those messages now should look to topics that are relevant, such as challenges related to working from home, cyber threats, learning and using new technologies to conduct business, and maintaining the emphasis on anti-bribery and anti-corruption efforts. It may be work-as-unusual, but ethics and integrity must remain constant.
Building trust in an organization is time-consuming, and this is the time for chief ethics and compliance officers to reap the benefits of spending countless hours cultivating relationships across various business units; hours spent getting to deepen personal connections with the board’s directors; of taking a few extra minutes to ask managers about themselves and their teams.
The investment in building trust throughout all levels of the organization may not often get realized, but it sure does pay out when it’s needed, at these critical junctures when it seems the entire world is being put to the test.
Enterprises that endeavor to conduct business from a place of truth and transparency likely will have employees who will trust the business is doing its best to deal with such an unknown and fluid situation, that it has their best interests at heart. In return, employees with trust and buy-in are more likely to work hard, to support their colleagues, and their communities.
Put another way: It's easier to ask for and get trust when you're a company that's proven to its employees to be honest and open in the past about what is happening, and how it is happening.
These are among the most unusual of times, a historical moment whose impact will extend far beyond the number of people killed or infected by COVID-19, one that will change the way we live, work, interact, and conduct business for far beyond this time of social distancing.
We’ve been talking about cultures built upon trust at LRN for more than 25 years, and never in that time has the need for strong cultures rooted in trust been more urgent. No company is going to get all of this right, but having the trust of the people around you, to know all are working to do what is right, will be the difference between cohesion and chaos.
Humanity is lacking leadership in the fight against COVID-19, historian Noah Harari writes in Time.
COVID-19 will change the way we work, Matt Burr and Becca Endicott write in WSJ Opinion.
Two pieces from Axios about women's inability to make real progress in getting positions on boards, or as chief executives. Women held 21.5% of board seats at Russell 3000 companies in the fourth quarter of 2019, Equilar reports. Goldman Sachs Asset Management won't support boards that don't have women.
Richard Bistrong writes on the FCPA Blog about the issues COVID-19 presents to compliance officers. Bistrong and Alison Taylor of Ethical Systems are quoted in a Compliance Week article about ethics and COVID-19.
Former Walmart ethics and compliance chief Cindy Moehring writes on LinkedIn about one simple thing to do to fight the integrity crisis.
Harvard Business Review offers an outlook at why companies should have different people serve as CEO and chairman.
Employers will face increased cybersecurity threats from COVID-19.
Not all workers can work from home, leading to questions about workplace fairness, Bloomberg reports.
An increased focus on corporate purpose is resulting in growing consumer regard for the world's 100 most reputable corporations, Reputation Institute reports.
Intel CEO Robert Swan is looking to shake up his company's culture, NYT reports.
Alex Dimitrief writes for Ethisphere about the human nature of whistleblowers.