Ethics and compliance: A post-pandemic update

Susan Divers on a new report on the effectiveness of ethics and compliance training.

In recent years, the effectiveness of ethics and compliance programmes – the foundation of what helps to create healthy ethical cultures and guide ethical workplace behaviour – has been called into question. This happens especially after scandals surface at companies with robust compliance programmes.

How companies can effectively inspire people to do the right thing, behave in ways aligned with corporate values, and live up to the spirit and letter of the law are among the questions asked each year in the Ethics and Compliance Programme Effectiveness Report.

This study surveys 630 ethics, compliance, and legal executives and experts at organisations around the world to evaluate the impact that ethics and compliance initiatives have on workplace behaviour.

This year’s report affirms demonstrated research and experience that a values-based approach to operating and sustaining ethical culture correlates with more effective ethics and compliance practice.

This year’s report goes a step further to create a holistic look at how COVID-19 affected ethics and compliance efforts worldwide, including how companies adapted their training initiatives in response to the pandemic.

Putting the organisation’s ethics and compliance programme literally into the hands of employees via a mobile app – is a priority for 61% of organisations with the most effective programmes

What’s heartening for responsible business is that organisations largely embraced best practice and relied on their values to go above and beyond their legal and regulatory requirements during the crisis. So much so, according to the new research:

  • 79% of those surveyed said their organisation’s ethical culture is stronger as a result of their COVID-19 experience
  • 82% of respondents indicating that their organisations emphasised company values – not just rules and procedures – to motivate employees to do the right thing in difficult circumstances.

Training, of course, is fundamental to effective ethics and compliance programmes – and essential to helping employees understand their organisations’ expectations and standards. Regulators have focused on training in their guidance on what makes ethics and compliance programmes effective.

Best practices include:

  • Training to the needs of employees in high-risk areas of operation
  • Using ‘sanitised’ examples of real compliance problems to drive home key messages
  • Ensuring training is understood and easily accessible
  • Focusing on ethics and company values, not merely rules.

Before the pandemic, many organisations used a hybrid approach, deploying online training broadly throughout the organisation to lay a foundation of knowledge and awareness, and in-person training, to increase impact and encourage questions.

Not surprisingly, the data show that many organisations responded to the COVID-19 crisis by using virtual platforms to replace face-to-face interactions. Less common, but still significant: the majority of those surveyed pivoted and customised their training to address  specific COVID-19 risks, and many revised their training schedules and the rollout of courses.

On the other hand, a relatively smaller percentage of respondents said that they had moved toward shorter, more targeted training courses, and only 24% of respondents reported that they use mobile devices to deliver training. This is despite the advantage of easy access on mobile devices for employees as shown in a recent case study with Dell Technologies.

There were some notable differences in the data geographically as it relates to how training was adapted in response to the COVID crisis.

Respondents in Europe reported, more often than their counterparts in Asia or North America, that they customised their training to address risks specific to the COVID crises (64% in Europe vs. 43 % in North America); use shorter, more targeted training courses or videos (41% in Europe vs. 32% in Asia and 31% in North America); and revised training schedules (53% in Europe vs. 44% in North America).

The use of mobile devices was higher in Europe as compared to the United States, but not as high as it was in Asia.

As the ‘new normal’ takes shape, many of the innovations stimulated by the pandemic and strategies companies used to pivot to the disruption in the regular course of business are expected to remain.

Among them, an embrace of web-based resources – including Codes of Conduct, searchable policies, training specifically designed for mobile and virtual platforms, and digital certifications from employees returning from work.

The most dramatic of those enhancements – putting the organisation’s ethics and compliance programme literally into the hands of employees via a mobile app – is a priority for 61% of organisations with the most effective programmes.

A future report will delve even more deeply into the most effective programmes and the lasting impacts of COVID-19 on ways organisations are fostering ethical and compliant corporate cultures.


About the author

Susan Divers is senior adviser at LRN


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