Building ethical culture: 3 key takeaways from Compliance Week Europe

Company culture influences employee behavior and ethical decision-making—but to what extent? Which “levers” of culture have a greater impact than others? And what does managing culture effectively even look like? These were some of the key questions recently explored during Compliance Week Europe, an annual opportunity for ethics and compliance professionals to join together to share best practices, learn from experts, and discuss the most pressing issues in the E&C space.  

LRN Senior E&C Advisor Emily Miner moderated the webinar discussion “Benchmarking and building ethical culture,” which focused on the connection between culture and conduct. Featuring insights from the recent LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture report, the webinar also highlighted stories from leading chief ethics and compliance officers on the deliberate steps they’ve taken to influence culture at their organizations. Panelists participating in the conversation included Claire Handley, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer at JLL, and Lisa Beth Lentini Walker, CEO & Founder at Lumen Worldwide Endeavors. 

Together, the group explored why having an ethical culture matters to business performance and how E&C leaders can put these ideas into practice. Here are three key takeaways from the discussion, which you can also watch fully on-demand. 

1) Ethical cultures are resilient. 

The LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture reveals a strong correlation between ethical business practices and performance. How a business performs is largely driven by the culture and values it has developed, both of which inform the way leaders and employees make decisions. In particular, Lentini Walker spoke at length about how ethical cultures make companies more resilient. Organizations that have a strong purpose and values-based approach to ethics and compliance, she observed, can weather the ups and downs of economic forces, stakeholder expectations, public health crises, and other societal factors and movements like the Great Resignation. “There will always be stressors,” said Lentini Walker. “The question is not will you get knocked down, but how will you get back up.” 

2) How you talk about culture—and who does the talking—makes a difference. 

Effectively managing culture requires getting buy-in from all levels, including company leaders, board members, and employees. Handley stressed the importance of clear, widespread communication and storytelling to get support across your organization. To be sure that your material resonates: 

  • Adapt your messaging to various audiences based on their particular roles and motivations. 
  • Get to the point quickly and simply. The goal isn’t to make everyone E&C experts, but to make it easier for people to think and act ethically on a daily basis and understand the expectations of your organization. 
  • Share real-life stories from your organization to help audience members form a deeper connection with the material. The more you can illustrate that speaking up can lead to positive organizational outcomes, the more comfortable people will feel using their voice. 
  • Enlist the help of ethics liaisons or employee volunteers to hold more frequent conversations about culture. This can be an opportunity to get more nuanced by department, region, native language, etc. 
  • Communicate through multiple channels: in-person, mobile app, company intranet, hallway posters, etc.

3) When it comes to managing culture, transparency is crucial.

Uncertainty can lead to mistrust in systems and management. Both Handley and Lentini Walker emphasized the importance of transparency when building an ethical culture, particularly when it comes to E&C processes like reporting misconduct. Here’s what they stressed: 

  • Demystify the process of reporting misconduct as much as possible. Providing regular clarity on what employees can expect when they raise a concern and the outputs of an investigation helps create a level of predictability and security. Giving people an idea of how you handle challenging issues can help build your credibility as an E&C function. 
  • Equip managers with the conversation, listening, and acting skills to receive employee concerns. To help create a “listen up” attitude and foster a more ethical culture, you’ll need to ensure that company managers know how to effectively address employee concerns. Training and toolkits can provide them with quick tips on how to do that without reacting dismissively or shutting down the conversation.

The key takeaway 

Culture matters, but you cannot effectively manage it if you don’t measure it. To learn more about building ethical culture in your organization, check out these additional resources: