Ethics and Compliance Messaging (Part I of IV)
Ethics and compliance professionals need to change the drumbeat of their internal message and marketing to corporate boards and leaders. No longer is it appropriate nor persuasive to trumpet fear as a rationale for company investments in ethics and compliance programs.
For years, CCOs have cited aggressive enforcement, dangers of prosecution and potential jail sentences as a way to persuade corporate leaders to allocate more resources to the ethics and compliance function.
No one likes a negative messenger, especially corporate leaders who like to just hear good news or favorable results, or optimistic predictions. CCOs have to turn a new page and start to bring about a new message.
Ethics and compliance is not a cost center. To the contrary, ethics and compliance contributes to the company’s financial bottom line. In other words, ethics and compliance makes money for the company.
With the rise of the compliance profession, the most significant strategy for consolidating this fundamental change in the profession is to start building a foundation of positive messaging and research to support this claim.
I know it is a profound grasp of the obvious –ethical companies are more profitable, but the banner has to be carried and the message supported through research and communication.
Compliance professional associations – the Society for Corporate Compliance Executives and the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association – need to step up and focus on this issue as leaders for the profession.
CCOs know that my argument is correct. They are too stunned right now by the fast-paced rise in their profession to recognize that action is needed to ensure that their position is consolidated. My fear is that once the pendulum swings back on aggressive enforcement programs to a more lax enforcement environment (akin to the 1980s), companies will immediately retrench on their commitment to ethics and compliance.
Aside from demonstrating conclusively the connection between ethics and compliance and profits, more research is needed on the issues of corporate leadership and creating a culture of ethics and compliance that stretches from the top of a company, to the middle and even to the bottom.
Corporate leadership is imperative to develop an ethical culture and there has been plenty of research on this issue. However, the extent of research on stretching that tone to other levels in the company, and the impact of that tone on employee performance and conduct needs to be increased.
These are all issues of great importance to the compliance professional. CCOs have their own views on these issues, most of which reflect their own experiences within specific companies. More work is needed to develop best practices and approaches to this issue.
In the compliance field, there is no one right answer, but there are certain best practices that can be weighed depending on the specific situation presented.
Compliance professionals cannot rest on their laurels or just hope that they continue to rise in the corporate environment. Instead, they need to adopt positive messaging and dedicate themselves to research that will ultimately give them even more support for what we all know is true – ethics and compliance is a bottom line addition to corporate profits.