For ethics and compliance professionals, creating an environment where employees are encouraged to do the right thing in the face of difficulties and challenges may seem like a herculean task – especially in this ever-changing regulatory landscape.
But, according to a recent opening keynote at Ethisphere/Thomson Reuters sixth annual Global Ethics Summit (GES), which took place in New York City on March 20-21, it all boils down to working with the right people to avoid potential reputational risks.
“Company concerns are very much beyond just business conduct; personal behavior and personal conduct now more than ever can reflect poorly upon the company,” said Larry Thompson, executive vice president, government affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary of PepsiCo during the opening keynote panel, which also featured Randal Milch, executive vice president, public policy and general counsel for Verizon.
Moderated by Holly J Gregory, partner at Sidley Austin, the discussion provided insights into the evolving role of the compliance officer and zeroed in on some areas business leaders should pay more attention to in 2014.
“Social media is great because it allows us to get closer to our customers,” said Milch to the room filled with governance, ethics and compliance officers. “Social media can also be a potential threat to our reputation, and it should be carefully monitored at the same time.”
Key Takeaway: Ethics and Communications
Another panel discussion, “Ethical communication during an era of heightened transparency,” served as the lunch keynote session. Moderator Paul Gennaro, AECOM senior vice president and chief communications officer, urged participants to work across the C-Suite to build and sustain an ethical culture — and rebuild public trust. “When I speak with colleagues in the corporate communications profession about priorities and goals, I encourage them to seek out their peers in ethics and compliance,” he said. ‘We have an opportunity to lead the way.”
Gennaro was recently named one of the top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy
Business for 2014 by Trust Across America Trust Around the World, which was launched by communications expert, Barbara Kimmel to promote thought leadership in this space and quantify organizational trust.
The keynote panel included Gary Sheffer, General Electric’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs; Grace Wu de Plaza, deputy ethics and compliance officer at the Nature Conservancy; and Dr. Edward Queen, director of the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program at Emory University’s Center for Ethics.
“Unfortunately, we live in a world where too often people say one thing and mean or do another,” said Queen. “Central to the issue of developing a convincing commitment to ethics is the practice of equity, of fairness. People in the organization need to know that the rules apply to everyone.”
Creating a global ethical corporate culture that is an authentic and durable remains a challenge for many governance and compliance officers. Sheffer believes that as companies expand into new territories and encounter different cultures, it is best to communicate in a context that is easy for local employees to understand. “At General Electric, we change our messaging according to the target audience,” he added. “In India, for example, we created Bollywood advertisements to foster employee engagement, and we continue to do the same in other countries.”
Taking Sheffer’s point further, a panel discussion on March 21, titled “Cultural Considerations for Codes of Conduct,” explored how cultural considerations should be taken into account in a global compliance program.
“All employees have the responsibility to act with the highest degree of integrity and in full compliance with the law,” said Susan Frank Divers, assistant general counsel for ethics and compliance at AECOM, who chaired the panel. “In order to gain a clear understanding of ethical and legal guidelines, companies must rely on a user-friendly Code of Conduct that caters to different cultures and regions.”
AECOM was one of the many companies named to World’s Most Ethical Companies list for the fourth consecutive year (2011-2014). To view the complete list of 2014 honorees, click here.