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.