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Open Communication and Practice Breeds True Compliance

Friday, August 3, 2018
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Compliance is a difficult issue to tackle, but two things can make compliance training more effective: communication and practice.

Ensure the Adaptation of Core Messages

Middle managers can be the key to effective communications between senior leaders and employees. Middle managers speak in terms that employees understand, whereas senior leaders generally do not.

Simplifying a statement increases the likelihood that people will understand and retain the message. Providing clear and salient points about abstract policies and showing how those policies apply in real-life situations are other ways to promote better understanding. Tailoring teaching scenarios by using local, in-country examples increases relatability. Supporting a diversity of perspectives and experiences provides a frame of respect and sensitivity around local issues; it can also promote greater efficiencies and break down barriers that can often build silos or emerge as the result of mergers and acquisitions. The notion of “this is how we do things here” or “this is how it’s always been done” can be a blocking mechanism to change and growth.

Bridging the dialogue by embracing cross-cultural environments and supporting comfortable and open conversations can drive more impact. With greater inclusivity and relevant messaging, it is more likely that the various divisions will be able to apply the code of conduct in a local and practical context.

Employees are more likely to report misconduct and collaborate to problem-solve when they understand they have a voice and realize how their voice can make a difference.

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Empower Employees to Make Ethical Decisions

Decision making takes practice. Ethical decision making in today’s high-pressured, hyper-transparent, global environment is not always clear-cut.

Sometimes, employees would rather make no decision than be held accountable for the wrong decision. But the best lessons in life occur when people try, fail, and learn. Companies should work to give their employees opportunities to practice ethical decision making.

Many ethics and compliance program training strategies are stuck in phase 1—a continuous cycle of simply raising awareness and checking the box. But true behavior change requires a few sequential phases of activities to help the learner visualize and build a skill. Creating formal or informal opportunities to simulate the environment, expose potential pressure points, and explore competing perspectives that may occur in real life can provide great avenues for developing ethical decision-making skills. A company can offer a quick discussion simulation at the top of a staff meeting or team tag-up, or a brown bag lunch exploring an issue in the news.
Placing employees in environments that can help simulate real ethical dilemmas allows them to practice collaborating, seeking guidance, and truly owning the learning experience.

It’s no secret—countless research studies have demonstrated that behavior change unfolds in phases and takes time, consistency, and relevant interactions. By providing open communication channels and real-world simulation activities, middle managers can help learners understand the impact of their decisions and the difference they can make within an organization.

About the Author
Dr. Marsha Ershaghi Hames is a managing director at LRN, a global compliance and ethics firm that specializes in developing principled corporate cultures. She has spent two decades advising boards and executive teams on transforming organizational culture, building effective compliance risk mitigation strategies, improving training effectiveness, and promoting greater leadership accountability. She believes compliance matters are no longer just legal issues but business and reputational priorities.

As a highly cited thought leader, Marsha has delivered speaking engagements at industry and association meetings including the Defense Industry Initiative, Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, Ethics & Compliance Initiative, and Ethisphere, and led executive programs at Georgetown University and the University of Southern California. She also leads workshops for corporate boards and executive leadership teams. She has guided projects for organizations across a spectrum of industries in the private, commercial, and nonprofit sectors. Marsha has been interviewed and cited by media including CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Anti-Corruption Report, Ethisphere, ComplianceWeek, Risk & Compliance magazine, and SCCE’s Ethikos. Marsha is an expert fellow at the USC’s Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making and serves on the advisory board of Compliance.ai, a financial tech firm that runs an AI platform designed to help distill financial regulatory risk into tangible intelligence.

Marsha holds a doctorate in educational technology and leadership, an MA in educational technology from Pepperdine University, and a BA from the University of Southern California.
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