Supervisors Set True Tone in Organization: The E&C Pulse - February 5, 2020

February 5, 2020 Ben DiPietro

Feb. 5, 2020

Supervisors Set True Tone in Organization


The mantra for a few years was “tone at the top,” which, of course, matters very much when it comes to setting expectations for an organization, and for showing the people leading the enterprise are serious about ethics, integrity, and doing the next right thing. 


Now, the emphasis is on “mood in the middle,” which is another way of saying, the people who are your managers and supervisors, who have direct interaction with employees.


This is a smart change in emphasis, as research, including from LRN, shows the essential role supervisors play in embedding and reinforcing culture.


The latest evidence comes from ECI and its recently released Global Business Ethics Report. The report spotlights the critical role supervisors play when it comes to influencing employees about whether they have trust in reporting misconduct that accountability will occur; and for how workers will perceive the acceptability of seeing coworkers being publicly reprimanded, or experiencing gender discrimination.


The report asked employees in 18 countries, and found those with supervisors that possessed strong leadership skills were more likely to succeed than those who worked with weak leaders. Workers in four of the five geographical regions surveyed said they wouldn’t accept such behavior, but the results showed many employees are not seeing evidence of effective leadership from their supervisors.


This matters because ECI found employees who perceive their supervisors to be strong leaders are two times more likely to be surprised if:

  • Their supervisor observed misconduct and didn’t report it; 
  • Coworkers observed misconduct and didn’t report it;
  • Misconduct was reported and not investigated; and if
  • There was no disciplinary action taken following an investigation that substantiated misconduct.

This mirrors research from LRN, which shows managers who exhibit moral leadership are much more likely to encourage innovation and creativity, while managers who don’t exercise moral leadership are 10 times more likely to treat people unfairly, and five times more likely to put short-term results ahead of the long-term mission. 


Julie Gershman, vice president of ethics at Prudential Financial, said during an ECI webinar last month the key takeaway is what can organizations do to make supervisors more effective. Authentic leadership leads to strong ethical cultures, employees being comfortable reporting misconduct, and then believing action will be taken.


“Employees are watching supervisors, who are their tone at top. They are scanning the environment for what is acceptable conduct, and what are the  expectations for them,” said Gershman.


Her team prepared information sheets to help supervisors create and encourage  speak-up environments for their teams--not just to raise concerns of misconduct, but to share ideas, even those with opposing points of view. 


“If we don’t get all ideas on table-whether coming forth with misconduct or with new ideas--we won’t advance at the pace of marketplace, and we will fall behind,” said Gershman. 


Andrene Bresnan, director of ethics and business conduct at Boeing Co., said it’s important to remember managers are asked now to do more than ever before, and they don’t devote the same amount of time to listening and developing their people as they used to. Add the fact it was easier in the past because a supervisor had all their people at the office everyday, and now work teams are spread around the globe. 


Bresnan’s advice? “Take inventory of yourself,” she said. “What do I do about valuing empowering employees, demonstrating respect, giving feedback, setting clear expectations?”


Strong supervisors will emit signals in the workplace to reinforce the behaviors the organization expects. Along with the code of conduct, statement of values and principles, the formal and informal policies, there is the supervisor, and the importance of their responsibility, said Gershman. 


“When supervisors authentically demonstrate they care about the people they work with, are invested in their development, and show they can lead in times of uncertainty, it gives such a boost to employee engagement,” she said. “And we know engaged employees commit less misconduct, and are more likely to report misconduct.”


It’s important for your leaders to always model the behaviors they expect, Bresnan said, because “as leaders we are always being seen.”


A supervisor may think they’re in an office, behind a closed door, but it doesn’t matter. “Everything you do is noticed, and employees and known to model behaviors their leaders have,” she said. “Always remember you are on display, wherever you’re at, whatever you’re doing.”


                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO




Four primary themes emerged from the responses in this year's CEO Survey from PwC: uncertainty; cyber; the retraining and upskilling of workers; and climate change.





LRN's Susan Divers authored a paper with Jonathan Drimmers from Paul Hastings LLP to highlight five key actions to help maximize the impact of an ethics and compliance program.






A report from Ethisphere Institute found while 93% of respondents said they would report unethical misconduct if they witnessed it; just 54% did.  




More Super Bowl ads this year saw companies trying to sell their values, and not their products, Axios reports.


culture of misogyny at Victoria's Secret was exposed by New York Times. 


Bribery and corruption allegations will cost Airbus around $4 billion to settle cases with the U.S., U.K., and France, Reuters reports. The scandal is having reverberations worldwide.


Research shows testing financial advisers on ethics can lead to better behavior.


Government agencies increasingly are retaliating against whistleblowers, Government Executive reports. A whistleblower for the Federal Aviation Administration says he was prevented from inspecting a helicopter that crashed. 


The Institute of Business Ethics released its review of the ethical lapses and concerns it recorded for companies with a U.K. presence in 2019.


Ginny Rometty is stepping down as CEO of IBM. Arvind Krishna replaces her.


Employee activism is on the rise in India, Times of India reports.


Mary Shirley writes in Corporate Compliance Insights about the need for sponsorship of compliance professionals.


Germany is ramping up enforcement of how tech companies collect and use customer data, Compliance Week reports.


Employees are seeking real social responsibility from their employers, and won't tolerate greenwashing, Conversation reports.



"A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

- Dalai Lama, spiritual leader



Edelman's Trust Barometer serves as a 20-year research study into attitudes about trust, and what it means to companies that are considered trustworthy. Edelman found trust drives workplace recommendations among employees, and also the market; trusted companies have stronger consumer buyers, which serves as a form of resilience against risk; and trusted companies get greater license to operate from investors, regulators, and the media. 


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