How to build more resilient, ethical cultures in any environment

Margaret Sweeney, Chief Human Resources Officer for LRN Corporation

Around the world, especially the UK, many organisations actually emerged stronger amid the pandemic. Those are the main findings from LRN’s 2022 Ethics and Compliance Programme Effectiveness Report, which reflects the input of business leaders and ethics and compliance professionals from around the world, filtered through insights our organisation has gained from our research as well as our work with thousands of companies globally.

As the Chief Human Resources Officer for LRN, I find the results elucidating for professionals in our field. In the 2021 survey, 79% of the executives and experts in the compliance industry reported that their organisation’s ethical culture emerged stronger because of the way they coped with the COVID-19 crisis. In our 2022 survey, the figures increased to 82%, yet for the UK it was 91% of E&C programmes reported that their organisations’ ethical culture emerged stronger as a result of coping with the COVID-19 crisis. You might think there would be erosion in the numbers as the pandemic wore on, but this was not the case.

Let’s take a look at what HR leaders can learn from high-performing organisations.

Focus on values first

The most crucial factor we identified in our work is that a values-based approach to governance builds and sustains ethical culture. Values transform culture and impact behaviour; rules merely set the minimum standards. Our pandemic-related research shows that approaching challenges from the perspective of shared values is much more effective than relying on dictates. Nearly four in five of the organizations we surveyed relied principally on values, not rules, to motivate employees to do the right thing.

Create a sustainable, flexible culture in a hybrid setting

Hybrid or remote work has become a new standard across a growing number of industries. Our research shows that 68% of companies prioritise making it easier for employees to engage wherever they work. This aligns with the desires of employees. Data from Gallup shows that nearly 60% of workers prefer a hybrid model—that’s nearly double the 32% who would prefer to work in an office setting full-time. 

Regardless of where the world will be in the future, giving employees flexibility and making it easier for them is a way to attract and retain employees.

Square away your internal processes—the sooner, the better 

With employees working from home and facing virtual challenges as their families compete for bandwidth, making it as easy as possible for them to do their jobs is essential (and overdue). 

Make processes more employee-friendly, simplify policies so they’re more understandable, and enhance searchability and access for the documents and guidance employees need. People are accustomed to using their phones for all kinds of everyday activities with one click to search the internet, pay bills, buy tickets, gifts, and groceries. Our 2022 report showed that 60% of those we surveyed planned to simplify their policies and make them searchable for employees. Further, 56% are planning to integrate mobile apps into their programs.

Review risk management regularly

For LRN’s Program Effectiveness Report we regularly assess emerging risks in the area of ethics and compliance. Many of the risks anticipated by respondents to the survey in 2021 lessened or did not significantly materialize in the 2022 survey results. 

Our research showed that the percentage of respondents who worried about less effective oversight and monitoring as a result of remote work declined from 56% to 18% of those surveyed. Similarly, the percentage of those concerned about increased misconduct due to remote work arrangements declined from 56% to 20% of those surveyed. These steep declines illustrate some of our worries about remote work were not borne out, and that organisations’ ethical cultures emerged from the pandemic stronger.

In short, UK E&C programmes weathered the Covid-19 crisis effectively, leaders continued to strengthen their programmes, and they helped employees cope with the consequences. But there is room for improvement: our research shows UK programmes would benefit even further by bringing a greater focus on using data and drawing from a wider variety of sources to guide continued programme attention and enhancement. There is always room for improvement, even for the most ethical companies.

About the author:

Margaret Sweeney – Chief Human Resources Officer

Margaret Sweeney is the Chief Human Resources Officer for LRN, and formerly held leadership positions in HR at Omnicom Health Group, Return Path, Citibank, and American Express. Margaret has an extensive background building strong performance-based cultures with a focus on employee experience and optimizing business results. In addition to her corporate experience, Margaret has dedicated significant time helping people return to work after experiencing an extended career break. She holds a master’s degree in behavioral science from Johns Hopkins University.

Author: Editorial Team

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