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Ethics Communication: Read All About It

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Ethics Communication: Read All About It

It seems we are continually hearing about companies that run into problems related to their values and their employees’ behavior. The most recent items in the media include the UK Financial Services Authority’s (FSA) recent £7 million fine against Willis Limited for not doing enough to prevent payments for corrupt purposes (read our blog post). Then of course there is the storied newspaper News of the World, shut down after accusations of phone hacking and other offenses. How do companies soften the impact when individual employees step outside of line, stepping outside of bounds they set down in a good-faith effort to do the right thing?

A recent article in Harvard Business Review by Rosanna Fiske suggests that communicating values externally to the public—and the way employees communicate those values—is important to the way the public reacts when something goes wrong. Internal communication of values to employees is important, but leaders must live those values in their day-to-day actions for those messages to translate to proper actions.

Some organizations are reacting to the recent headlines by deliberately re-circulating their ethics policies both internally and externally. The San Antonio Express-News recently blogged about an internal awareness program that was triggered by the incident at News of the World. The paper guided all journalists to reread the policy and sign a compliance form. The paper’s public editor posted the link to the paper’s policy in the article, offered to send it by snail mail upon request, and asked readers to alert him personally if they sense an ethics problem. This is a great example of being proactive on an internal and external basis.

Another way to support proper communication of values to employees is to offer governance training to reinforce key concepts. This training, most preferably in an e-learning format, should be delivered at least annually and supplemented with abbreviated messaging to keep topics top-of-mind in between formal training. In addition, employees should always have easy access to current versions of relevant policies. A robust policy management process makes sure policies are updated and available to employees at all times. This kind of comprehensive ethics communication plan – effective and thorough – can help keep your company’s name out of the papers.

About the Author

John Peltier, Product Marketing Manager. John leads the product marketing efforts for The Network’s integrated governance, risk and compliance software suite and previously led the strategy and development efforts of our Policy Management and Learning Management Systems. He is an accomplished product professional, with over a decade of experience delivering solutions to business problems. He has spent three years in ethics and compliance, and previously spent nine years in healthcare.


  1. Keegan Martin
    June 27, 2014 at 3:42 am

    I recently sat in on some seminars at Bowl Expo 2014, a international convention for bowling alley proprietors from all across the world. One of the main topics this year at the meeting was about training your employees. Then, once you train your employees, they are going to need to be retrained to ensure that they are still on the same page as your company. With saying all this I can agree that in order to give the public the correct view of your company it is important that your employees are aware of the companies views, standards, and regulations. If a company cannot successfully convey its views and expectations to their own employees how can the public ever know? Business can learn from News of the World and take steps to prevents things like that from happening within their own business. The San Antonio Express-News, was a great example of that. This business is making sure that everyone: employees, and consumers are both on the same page when it comes with their policies. They are affectively communicating to others. In my Communication Ethics class, we have taken some time to learn about the Ethics when it comes to Public Relations, it is the PR director’s responsibility to correctly share any information from a business to their customers. “Public Relations is included among a number of standard management functions typical in organizations. According to the PR Society of America, the public relations management function encompasses numerous tasks. Public attitudes and issues… are interpreted to management…policy decision, course of action, and communication.” (pg 171) It seems that communication on many different levels is important inside a business. Sources: Johannesen, R. L. (1983). Ethics in Public Relations . Ethics in human communication (6th ed., ). Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.

    Reply »
    • Pia Adolphsen
      Pia Adolphsen
      June 27, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      So true Keegan! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply »

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