Turning a Turbulent Social and Political Environment into Positive Ethical Culture Strategies

Corporate cultures do not operate in a silo or free from external influences. 

Yet again, another profound grasp of the obvious.  Employees, managers and senior leadership all bring their own experiences, perspectives, attitudes and influences.  Of course, our political and social environment is a consistent and steady influence on corporate culture and behavior.

Given the current social climate, the divisive nature of our politics, particularly with the anticipated impeachment proceedings and the growing social demands on businesses, there have been some positive reactions and developments.  Not everything is as dire as we all may think if we follow all he cable news and Internet reporting.

Let me offer a few positive developments, some of which are significant and provide opportunities for ethics and compliance officers.

  1. Corruption Awareness:  As a whole, corporate actors are increasingly articulating “corruption” concerns to cover a range of unethical behavior.  This trend is not simply because of greater familiarity with the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws; rather, this trend reflects a greater political and social awareness of corruption, as it occurs in our political world, as well as greater value placed on avoiding corrupt conduct as part of an ethical workplace.
  2. Conflicts of Interest: in keeping with a greater awareness of corruption and instances of corrupt behavior, a specific sensitivity continues to grow with the appearance of conflicts of interest.  With growing complexity of business relationships, and public examples of significant conflicts of interest, senior leaders, managers and employees are demonstrating through their conduct that avoidance of conflicts of interest in an ethical organization is an important guardrail.  To the extent that a company suffers from perceived and/or real conflicts of interest, at any significant level (e.g. board, senior executive or manager), a company’s culture will suffer and misconduct rates may increase.  Once a company’s culture is perceived to be “lawless” or “unethical”, the constraints of a robust culture of compliance will quickly dissipate and employee misconduct will increase.
  3. Ethical Corporate Culture: As millennials increasingly dominate corporate workforces, there is a corresponding demand by millennials that their employers commit to maintaining an ethical culture.  For example, a recent survey revealed that millennials would take a 10 percent pay cut to move to and work for an ethical company that was more consistent with their respective social values.  This trend is a real and significant foundation on which ethics and compliance officers can leverage to require support in the form of authority and resources needed to maintain and manage a company’s culture.
  4. Organizational Justice:  A company’s commitment to an ethical culture requires that the company maintain a fair and just internal justice system.  This consists of encouragement to raise concerns; prompt investigation and response to such concerns; and fair and equitable resolution of any code or legal violations, notwithstanding the importance of the actor or position held in the company.

A company’s culture will reflect our society’s values.  While there is much to be concerned about in our divisive political world, the response to such influences and increasing desire for a more tranquil and just society can create some real opportunities for ethics and compliance officers to build some positive influences and strategies within the corporate environment. 

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