Ethics, Compliance, and Yoga Pt.1

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By Bonnie Silvestri, Ethics & Compliance Officer, CCEP
Katerina Tapas, Ethics, Senior Consultant, Allstate

Yoga seems to fit well with ethics and compliance for us. We are Katerina K. Tapas, Ethics Sr. Consultant for Allstate Insurance Company and Bonnie Silvestri, Ethics and Compliance Officer of Sarasota County. Although we haven’t met in person yet, through SCCE, we have discovered that we both have a passion for yoga as well as our work in ethics and compliance; and we agree there is overlap between these fields.  Although we have different backgrounds, our similar interests have us thinking along the same lines, and we wanted to share our discussion with others in the SCCE community. This will be our first in a series of conversations.

Katerina: In the summer I did a podcast (Katerina Tapas on Compliance, Ethics and Yoga) with Adam Turteltaub and before that I read a blog article that Bonnie had written for SCCE (Just Breathe: Connecting Wellness to an Ethical Culture).  So, I obtained Bonnie’s contact information, and we started talking about our similar interests.  Bonnie, why don’t you share why you feel yoga and ethics are related?

Bonnie: During my eighteen years as a yoga practitioner, I have learned that yoga can help us achieve wellness as well as deal with periods of crisis, both of which we experience working in the field of ethics and compliance. As an ethics officer in the public sector, I see ethics as an aspirational pursuit that guides our work as public servants. When we revamped our county’s ethics code, we added aspirational provisions, inspiring quotations from thought leaders ranging from Mehmet Murat Ildan to Mahatma Ghandi and maintained the theme “helping you stay on the right path” with positive imagery from our county’s wealth of natural resources. My focus on yoga and wellness as well as experience serving others in times of crisis has framed my thinking about ethics in public service. I perceive ethics as a proactive pursuit for a higher calling in much the same way that an important tenant of yoga is helping us seek a purpose beyond ourselves.

How about you, Katerina, did you have a similar experience?

Katerina: In my role, I’m responsible for Ethics Education. This means educating our employees and associates and providing resources for them to Do the Right Thing. For example, speak up when they see something that doesn’t sit right with them. Our education and communication programming is designed to educate on our Global Code of Business Conduct and increase awareness of our core values.  If honesty, caring and integrity aren’t part of our company culture, then the decisions that employees make every day could have very different outcomes.  As a yoga teacher, I basically teach the same thing.  In yoga, you make decisions that help you become more self-aware, both physically and mentally. Yoga connects our bodies to our minds and teaches us to pay attention to our experience. After practicing yoga for a time, you relate differently to your feelings and emotions.  Simply put, yoga has a way of bringing out the compassion from within and encouraging a sense of wholeness with those around you.

Let me give you a specific example on how yoga has influenced my day to day work.  My first project in this field was to design and deliver a new Global Code course from script development to learning platform delivery for the Allstate Family of Companies. This meant managing 7 different perspectives on content and 7 different approaches to training, to say nothing of getting alignment from subject matter experts throughout the company. I leveraged the skills I learned in yoga practice to help me lead project meetings and collaborate with my colleagues. You’d be surprised at what a gift it is to take a breath and give everyone the time and space they deserve when working on a project with a deadline.  Bonnie, I’m sure you have an example of how yoga affects your work.

Bonnie: Yes, I can recall one situation that really stands out, relating to the concept of doing no harm, known as ahimsa, in yoga-based philosophy.

We were brought in to help resolve a dispute involving two long-time employees in different departments. One of the employees told a resident that another employee might have a personal relationship with a vendor that he believed could have impacted his decision-making. The second employee was deeply hurt by the accusation; because, as we determined, his relationship with the vendor was purely professional and had no bearing on his recommendation in the matter. We found that the seeds of distrust had been planted during various meetings at which the two employees were not present at the same time, leading to quite a significant misunderstanding.

We recommended a reconciliation, where the employee who made the accusation of unethical conduct gave a genuine apology to his colleague, who prided himself on his strong professional reputation. He told us that he felt heard and accepted the apology, which eased the tensions substantially. Both departments made a concerted effort to keep the channels of communications flowing to try to diminish the possibility that a misunderstanding, that could potentially impact the organization and the community, would occur in the future.

My yoga practice has taught me the importance of seeing yourself as part of a whole, as the word yoga itself, means union. If there is pain in one part of the organization, the whole organization suffers. In this case, an employee was deeply hurt by a charge of unethical conduct; and if the matter had not been addressed, doubt and fear might have permeated the organization. It became clear that open and authentic communication would have quickly resolved the misunderstanding. Healing and overall wellbeing is extremely important in a healthy organization, so it was imperative that the relationship between the co-workers was repaired and that enhanced communication between the departments was achieved.

We are enjoying our discussions, and we have more to share in Part II. We hope you’ll be inspired to think about ethics and compliance from a new perspective and feel free to share in the comment section below.

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