I would say there are two paths when developing a Corporate Ethics Program: you either establish a list of rules to check off, or you aim to strengthen the corporate culture in terms of ethics.
At Alicorp – a leading consumer goods company in Latin America – we opted for the second path. It was especially challenging for us since 25% of Alicorp’s growth comes from acquisitions and we are still going through a cultural integration process, what we call our Corporate Cultural Value Journey.
In order to tackle this challenge we conducted an enriching co-creative process. Throughout this journey, employees from different departments and from various countries participated in the creation of our Corporate Ethics Program.
About the process
We followed four stages:
1. Define our team
The implementation of this co-creative process was led by the Corporate Human Resources Vice-presidency and the Corporate Affairs Department.
We involved the Comptroller’s Office, our legal advisors and Local HR Departments in all countries where we operate, such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. These departments provided a specialized point of view in a variety of matters, ranging from legal subjects to cultural issues regarding the local sphere.
The Management Committee -where the company’s leaders participate- was kept informed of the progresses made along the co-creative process in order to build ownership around the Ethics Program.
2. State expectations and responsibilities
What is the purpose of a Corporate Ethics Program? Which is the starting point? What is the role of the Legal Advisors in the process?
Well, to answer this question we started by reviewing all our current policies and discussing with our Risk Management’s Office. We also revised sector benchmarks and the previous company’s Code of Conduct. Then, with EY’s support (a consultant firm), we conducted meetings with top management to help us outline their expectations around a Corporate Ethics Program.
We also assigned the Local HR Departments as the leaders of the co-creative process in the countries were they operated. They were responsible for coordinating legal validations, as well as for carrying out focus groups with employees. The Comptroller’s Office and our Legal Advisors took a consulting and validating role.
In this crucial stage we validated the purpose of our Corporate Ethics Program: to boost our corporate culture within an ethical framework and to enhance the management of risks.
Once the expectations were defined, we designed a draft of our Corporate Ethics Program. This initial proposal included: a Code of Conduct and policies, a governance structure, a reporting system, a flow-down procedure and a training plan.
This initial draft was subject to evaluation and feedback among employees. We carried out more than 15 focus-group sessions in four countries. Employees from different sites, functional departments (such as Accounting, Sales, Marketing, and Manufacturing, among others) and top management (analysts, managers, operators, etc.) participated. Employees affiliated to trade unions partook as well.
We received many diverse views and suggestions to improve the program. The main expectations were aimed at the company’s leaders. One employee expressed, “They must ‘walk the talk’, this is only way to have a strong Corporate Ethics Program.” Another view gathered from the focus groups was the importance to make “ethical issues” practical, easy to understand, and to apply on daily basis.
It is crucial to keep up with the findings and criticism received; all ideas that add value must be taken in account.
For example, the “Code of Conduct” changed dramatically after the focus groups. We modified the wording, added practical examples and even changed its name. Our “Ethics Commitments Guide” now incorporates the feedback of its final users: our employees.
Moreover, the training plan included a “cascade method”. This meant that top managers where responsible for facilitating training sessions among their working teams. This helped send a message of coherence and credibility. Company’s leaders set the example for their teams and also drive cultural change.
What did we achieve?
We launched our Corporate Ethics Program one month ago and we have had a good response so far. We are just getting started, but we are optimistic that this process will have a strong impact on the quality and the sustainability of our Corporate Ethics Program. Here is why:
· We took into account the different perceptions and realities of Alicorp all around Latin America. As a result, our Code of Conduct, together with our policies, are applicable and understandable in all of the countries where we operate.
· We got the endorsement and support of key stakeholders, such as local HR Departments. They were part of the experience and now they lead the deployment of the Ethics Program. It’s relevant for them because they have worked on it themselves and have been involved in every major decision.
· A company’s leaders are followed and admired, their behavior is imitated. This is why having the Management Committee on-board was critical for delivering the Program.
Besides having the Ethics Program integrated, the Corporate Cultural Value Journey has been essential for its application. Culture is alive and so is the Corporate Ethics Program. Therefore, it requires constant revision and updating, co-creation is never over.
Personally, I found the co-creative process highly inspiring and challenging, because it helped us make better decisions while requiring a lot of dedication. It was a space to add value, to discover and collaborate. All in all, co-creation was critical for designing an effective Corporate Ethics Program and it also made the buy-in process much smoother.
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