A strong ethical culture and a strong speak-up culture: each one is a crucial support for the other. So how can compliance officers bring that ideal corporate culture about? This masterclass webinar will explore how a compliance officer first understands where you are (assessing culture), so you can then implement astute “mitigation” measures that drive a better speak-up culture and, ultimately, more ethical behavior.
Transcript for Assessing Corporate Culture & Driving Speak Up Behaviors
Giovanni Gallo: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the webinar today. We are going to wait a couple minutes and let some people start filtering in and loading up their Zoom. So, we’ll just wait a minute or two and let everyone get settled.
So, as we do that, let’s do a quick roll call. And we’ll do intros in a minute, but, everyone, why don’t you tell us where you’re joining the webinar from. I’m coming from Charlotte, North Carolina. Matt?
Matt Kelly: Well, I am here in Boston, where it is a chipper 95 degrees, and hot and humid.
Giovanni: All right. Kim, where are you?
Kim Urbanchuk: I’m in Fairfax County, Virginia where it is also hot and humid.
Giovanni: I’m seeing a trend here. Christopher?
Christopher Corallo: In New Jersey. And it’s 89 degrees. It’s sunny and hot.
Giovanni: Oh. That might be the coolest out of the group here. So, everyone, as we get into this, if you’re attending, we’re really glad that you joined us. Why don’t you jump into the chat or the Q&A and tell us where you’re coming in from? It’s always cool to see the different places people are joining. And also, find that chat area because we love getting questions from the audience. We want this to be interactive and helpful to you. So, we’ll just wait one other minute and we’ll get started here.
Matt: I do see somebody from Phoenix who said it’s 91 degrees there. So, it is hotter in Boston than Phoenix, which is just an outrage against nature.
Giovanni: That’s just not supposed to happen.
Matt: No, it’s not.
Christopher: As long as it’s not snowing, Matt.
Matt: I will say Hurricane Henri was a big miss for Boston. We had some mild rain and some mild wind. And I know Rhode Island got it square in the face, but that’s about all.
Giovanni: All right. All right. Well, let’s jump in. I’ll hand it over to you in a minute, Matt, but want to welcome everyone to the webinar today. I’m Gio Gallo, Co-CEO of ComplianceLine, and we’re really excited to cover this issue with everyone today, Assessing Corporate Culture and Driving Speak-Up Behavior. It’s obviously critical to so many of the things that we cover and that we, as ethics and compliance leaders, care about. And really excited to get some great guests on here and some great discussion about how to really impact your corporate culture.
So, I’ll hand it over to you, Matt, for a more thorough introduction, but just want to remind everyone that we will have a recording of this webinar to send out to you as a follow-up to this. And then, also, like I said, please jump into the chat as we get going here and let us know if you want us to clarify something, tell us about, you know, how genius it was, something that one of the panelists said, or ask us a question and we’ll try to work it in and make sure that this time that we’re all spending together here through the screen is as valuable to you as possible. So, take it away, Matt.
Matt: Sure, thank you. So, hello, everybody. As Gio said, I am Matt Kelly, I am the editor of Radical Compliance and I moderate these webinars for ComplianceLine from time to time. We are here to talk about corporate culture and, more specifically, how to drive speak-up behaviors so you can have a better corporate culture. I think everybody knows that it is very important, regulators talk about the importance of corporate culture. And as a concept, most people are sold on the idea that you have to think about it.
So, today we want to talk a bit more about, “Okay, great idea. How does a large organization actually do that? How does a compliance officer think through the tools and techniques that you might use to assess a corporate culture? Who else in the enterprise are you going to work with to assess a corporate culture? And then what are the levers that you might try to pull to encourage more of an internal speak-up culture?” Which can benefit your business in all sorts of ways, but it can be a bit challenging to figure out, “What are the right policies? What are the procedures that we should implement? What are the incentives we want to put in place? What do we want the CEO to say about this?,” and things like that.
So, those, we’re going to cover a lot of that. We do encourage a very free-form, interactive discussion with our panelists here and with the listeners. So, if you do have a question, by all means submit it. We’ll try to save up some time towards the end to go through questions. Although if you ask an especially good one or an especially timely one, we might try and drop it in on our panelists right here on the fly as we go.
So, that’s what we’re looking to do for the next 55 minutes or so. The panelists that we have, I’ll just go in alphabetical order.
First, we have Chris Corallo. Chris is the North America Compliance Officer for ConvaTec. They are a large medical technology firm, got about $2 billion or so in revenue every year. Chris, hello, welcome.
Christopher: Hello, everyone. Thanks for having me.
Matt: Sure. And also joining us is Kim Urbanchuk, she is the Deputy General Counsel and Head of Ethics and Compliance at Parsons. They are a large engineering and construction firm, a lot of defense contracting, IT services, things like that. So, Kim, welcome and thank you to you, too.
Kim: Thank you for having me.
Matt: Sure. And then we also have Gio, who is the Co-CEO of ComplianceLine and who shows up for everything. So, Gio, we’re always happy to have you, as well.
Giovanni: Glad to be here, I’m really looking forward to digging into this today. Thanks for being here, Matt. And Kim and Chris.
Matt: So, my first question was just to ask all of you, broadly speaking, how well do you think companies are doing today at assessing corporate culture? Because we see a steady stream of what I call blow-up stories in the media where employees at company X are suddenly complaining about a toxic culture that has lasted for years or there’s a regulator who’s taking action against a company for that.
And I won’t name specific names, but there is a large video game company out there at the moment that just had this happen to them. Those of you who play Warcraft or Call of Duty, you know who I’m talking about. But, you know, the allegations against the company are quite serious, that there was a sexual harassing company culture that went on for years. And now the regulators are involved. It’s a big blow-up on social media, it’s a big blow-up with the customer base.
So, all of that suggests to me that we’re actually not that good at assessing corporate culture. And maybe it is specific offenders, maybe a lot of companies are, I don’t know. So, Kim, I’ll start with you, and then maybe Chris and Gio. What are your thoughts about how are corporations doing these days, how much of a struggle is it to try and get a good read on what the corporate culture really is?
Kim: And I’m going to give you that really awesome legal answer that everyone loves to hear from lawyers, it depends. Yeah. No, I actually think it’s company-specific. I think some companies are really good at it, and then I think some companies are obviously not. And I think it has to do with your culture generally, in terms of how collaborative are you, how open are you with your employees and your managers. Not just, like, the tone from the top step, but middle, kind of first-line managers. How team-oriented is everyone? Are you listening to your employees? And I think that it really varies from company to company.
What I do think is a trend and that is true is that companies really need to…that aren’t doing it so well really need to get a handle on it because these kinds of stories, I think with the advent of social media and just how quickly the news cycle takes off, you know, we’re hearing about a lot of this more than maybe we used to in real time. And so I feel like it really behooves companies to pay more attention to this than they maybe did 20, 10 years ago.
Matt: Chris, what do you think?
Christopher: I mean, everything that Kim said I agree completely with. I think it’s also, you know, companies and their ability to clearly define roles and responsibilities. So, you know, with COVID, you know, we had a major shift, right? From brick and mortar to virtual, you know, a virtual world. And, you know, I know myself, you know, when you go into the office, you know, you get up, you know, you drive to the office, you do your work, and then you come home. And that’s an X amount a number of hours in the day. But now you wake up, you walk over to your computer, and then you’re on, you know, until whenever.
So, there’s a work-life balance with that aspect. But with the roles and responsibilities, you know, things change. So, you know, when you first get hired, you know, there’s a certain set of things that you’re being asked to do. But with different budget constraints, resources, you know, change in strategies, you do a lot more. So, that becomes potentially a challenge and it’s a time management issues. And then you become, “Well, why is this person able to do things and I can’t?,” and there’s the compensation aspect.
So, once you get past the roles and responsibilities, then it’s resources, what’s available to your employees to help manage these things. And then it comes down to empowerment, are they able to, you know, speak up, do they feel comfortable with going to people to ask questions, to brainstorm. And a lot of this, I guess, visibility comes through training, communications. And how effective that is really depends on how good the culture is going to be, in my mind.
Matt: And, Gio, give me your thoughts. You talk to an awful lot of clients and other customers these days. And, you know, where do you think they’re struggling on corporate culture? How come this seems to be a persistent nagging problem for at least some portion of the corporate world out there?
Giovanni: Yeah. I mean, to Kim’s point, some people care a lot about this, invest a lot of time and effort and energy and money into it. So, you know, it’s obviously not a monolith. But I think that people are struggling with it and I think that there are a couple different forces that are making this a struggle, right?
So, you know, I think that the level of acceptance for bad behavior, we’re a lot less tolerant. And that might be because of media and social media and stuff like that, or just, you know, kind of values in our culture. I think that there are new generations coming into the workforce. You know, you can think of it as millennials are kind of hitting middle management, Gen Z is kind of coming into entry level. And, you know, these generations have a different mix of values. It’s not just kind of, you know, stamp out your time and get your pension and, you know, be somewhere for 30 years. They’re a lot more mobile and they…you know, they, again, have less tolerance for malfeasance or being treated poorly.
And I also think that just some structural things have changed in our economy. You know, Chris was talking about virtual. You know, some of it is technology-driven, some of it is just how business is done, and how integrated or, you know, how many vendors you have. So, there’s a lot more complexity that’s come into it. And I think that we’re dealing with this dual struggle of, let’s call it, our society at large, not even just our employees, demand more of us. And also, it’s becoming harder to do the culture things that we talk about. Because you’re virtual, because your company is bigger, because you’re handling a lot more complexity or whatever it is, right? Like, companies are not, like, simplifying and doing fewer things, they’re doing more.
So, I think within that, like, I want to encourage everyone that, like, this job is getting harder, of doing culture well. So, you don’t need to just kind of be at pace, you may have to catch up and run faster than someone had to run 20 years ago. But we also have a lot of tools, we have great insights from leaders like Chris and Kim and you, Matt. And you can approach this and, you know, make a difference on it. And I think we’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about the specific piece of culture of people speaking up. And I think that that’s a really great way to unlock a conversation.
Thanks for jumping in on the chat, everyone. You know, some people were talking about, “Well, are we talking about speaking and listening?” And when your speak-up culture can drive a conversation where you’re finding out what’s going on, you’re telling people, you know, what you’re doing about it, and you can get a real dynamic conversation going, I think that this speak-up issue has a really strong potential to unlock a lot of transformation and strength in the overall corporate culture, which includes, you know, how people are treated and promoted and all of that stuff.
Matt: That brings up my next question. In fact, a slightly different one than I… I had originally wanted to ask about why assessing corporate culture is getting more important, but all three of you actually touched on a lot of the changes that are happening. So, moving to a virtual world, which can radically change your culture. And we have a much more diverse workforce than we did, say, 25 years ago. And, in many ways, they’re more demanding of better conduct. But we also have so many more stakeholder groups that I think are empowered social media where they…I’ll say they feel emboldened to express their opinions about your corporate culture, regardless of how well-informed those opinions are or are not. But, you know, social media has allowed a lot more voices to try and horn in on what the corporate culture is.
So, I suppose really my next question I’d like to ask is how much in your organizations do you see that managers get that urgency here? I suppose a lot of senior managers and boards will always say, “Oh, yeah, corporate culture is important.” I’m also curious about, like, middle managers or operations people in the first line of defense, or others who might not necessarily have thought about organizational culture before, like, do they feel sort of more pressure to understand what this is and try and keep the corporate culture right? You know, what do you see, or what do you think is going on out there? And I’ll use the same order, I’ll ask Kim, and then Chris, and then Gio, again. What do you think?
Kim: I think that with COVID, actually, and also kind of the changing workforce, right? That our sort of mid-level managers, first-line managers, project managers are getting a kind of crash course education. The ones that weren’t quite so savvy on this stuff or didn’t really pay attention to it perhaps as much as, like, someone like I do prior are really…there’s been, like, a giant jump in their understanding during COVID.
And the reason for that, I think, is we’ve seen with our employee base… And we’re kind of on a work-from-anywhere-that-you-can model right now. We’re kind of going to, like, ultimate employee flexibility and lots of power in the employee base’s hands. And we’re doing that because, again, kind of going back to some of the comments, we’re trying to listen to what our employees need to function at their best for the company, right? And for themselves.
And so I think that we’ve put a real emphasis behind listening as opposed to just telling people to speak up, but listening to them when they do, and then pivoting and showing them how we’re changing. Not just listening and making changes and not talking about it, but, like, “Okay, we heard you and we’re going to do X and we’re going to do Y in response to that.” And that’s brought a lot of kind of middle… “Middle management,” I hate that term because it sounds so, like, office…
Matt: It is what it is.
Kim: But mid-line people managers, first-line people managers are really starting to understand that this is…in order to keep people engaged and to keep people on board, right? Because people have a ton of options. If they’re not feeling listened to, they can go to, you know, 100 other companies that will let them work remotely and who will listen to them.
And so there’s a lot of, I think…a lot of change in that space and we’ve put a lot of resources behind training our people managers, giving them resources to kind of improve that. So, I think it’s evolving, and it’s evolving very quickly. And so for us, I think COVID has actually kind of kicked that into high gear.
Matt: Yeah. Chris, what do you think?
Christopher: I mean, I go back to, you know, roles and responsibilities. And, you know, I may have more alignment with the culture being in marketing versus me being on the manufacturing floor. Right? Also, do I have computer access or am I only getting information through just, you know, communications, you know, verbally? And then, you know, how effectively is the leadership communicating the big picture, what’s the short-term and long-term strategy? And then, last but not least, like, where do I fit in as the employee? And if I can’t readily answer that question quickly, then that’s where you have, you know, culture leak and people becoming disenfranchised, and then potentially wanting to go elsewhere, as Kim mentioned.
So, you know, it’s a moving target and it all comes back to, you know, reinforcement of messaging. And I know we’re going to get through that later in the presentation, but I think that’s a key aspect of strengthening or enhancing a culture.
Matt: Well, first off, Chris, I want to give you a prize for using the phrase “culture leak,” which I think is an excellent descriptor for the threat that a lot of compliance officers and other managers are worried about. And it does kind of lead into I wanted to ask a couple of questions about assessing corporate culture. I promise we’re going to get to how you encourage a speak-up culture. But, especially these days, if a company has shifted to a lot of remote work, that is a very disruptive thing. There could be a lot of culture leak, or culture drift, or whatever you might want to call it.
So, how could a company try to assess corporate culture? And I don’t know if that’s workforce surveys or do you, the compliance person, lean on HR to figure out what to do or do you look at hotline calls or whatever. But I was curious if we could talk a bit about what are the actual good ideas to get an assessment of where your culture is right now, are you suffering a leakage, are you suffering a drift or anything. Gio, I don’t know if you have any thoughts first? And then I’ll ask Kim and Chris about that. But, you know, what would you recommend?
Giovanni: Yeah. I’ll start with some ideas. You know, I think that on one hand there’s probably a lot of things that you already have access to that can inform you on the strength of your culture. On the other hand, you probably are not measuring this as a KPI that every quarter you’re putting up a slide to…bless you, you’re putting up a slide to the board that says, “Yeah, here’s our new culture rating. You know, we hit a, you know, 102 points on it.”
So, there’s progress to be made, but we have a lot of this stuff in place already. So, I think that as you define culture, you need to look at it from a few different perspectives so you can get some hard numbers about what is your employee retention, you know, what is your turnover, what’s your… You know, you can get employee engagement surveys and scores and stuff like that.
I think a lot of this needs to be informed by some subjective anecdotal just kind of discussion and communication. Which, I think, a lot of times we, as ethics leaders, may be kind of slow to, like, leverage or step into a lot because it’s hard to quantify and it’s hard to wrap it up and say, “Yeah, we got that done.” But I know at our company, and we talk to, you know, clients in the market about this, just having that conversation and saying, “Hey, managers, how do you feel people are doing?,” or, you know, having a…you know, a survey or, you know, a round table or town hall to kind of take the temperature of people can give you some sense of, again, maybe not, like, where to put this on the thermometer of how great your culture is, but what things you need to do.
And then, ultimately, there are going to be some things that you need to invest in and step up in. Right? Like, do people feel like they’re going to get retaliated against if they speak up about this issue? Well, you know what? I’ll tell you right now that that’s a culture killer. And you may not see it in your next quarterly earnings call that, like, “Hey, profitability fell through the roof because everyone is sitting around, you know, clammed up.” But, over time, that’s going to just, you know, erode your culture and your buy-in.
And you know what? I think that what we…what is going to help us understand how important it is to invest in not just building your culture, but, to your point, Matt, measuring it and assessing where we’re at is understanding that the 2020s that we’re in right now, this is the decade of culture. Okay? This is not the…you know, we didn’t just, like, figure out computers and we’re just doing start-ups and, you know, we’re just doing lean manufacturing. What is going to drive the difference between companies in attracting talent and performing in the marketplace and innovation are these things about culture and your diversity and your employee engagement. And over the next five years you’re going to see companies accelerate and get that talent that is so valuable, it’s a very tight labor market right now. When you have the right things in your culture where employees feel like they belong, they know how they fit in, to Chris’s point, that’s an awesome point, they feel empowered and things like that.
So, I think that, you know, we can leverage some of the things that we have, you know, how many calls are we getting to our hotline, you know, what type of issues are people speaking up about, you know, what do people say and, you know, how many of them take the survey, and stuff like that. But ultimately, if you don’t have this right and your culture isn’t tight and on a continuous improvement velocity, well, you know who’s going to leave first? It’s going to be the people who have options. It’s going to be the people who say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve invested in myself, I’ve grown in my career, I performed really well. And you know what? You know, I don’t really have to put up with this anymore.”
And I think more and more of our culture and the people in our workforce are phasing into that type of attitude of, “You know what? You know, I’ll take a $2 or $5-dollar-an-hour reduction in pay to not have to put up with this.” And the first people who are going to leave, it’s going to be this brain drain of the people who are most qualified and most able to help move you forward.
So, I think that you need to put a bouquet together of different indications of your culture and you need to mark that on an ongoing basis. And some of those are going to be objective numbers that you can put on a scale and some of them are just going to be indications that, you know, will later, if you solve them, show up in those objective numbers. But I think we have to take this kind of comprehensive approach of we should be looking at a bunch of dials to see how the engine is running.
Matt: Kim, give me some of your thoughts there. And I still want to stick with this idea for a moment here about how…you know, what tools and techniques could somebody use for assessing corporate culture, especially at a larger organization when you need to be a bit disciplined about it. I’m all for that idea of management by walking around and asking the team leaders, you know, “What’s going on? How do you feel?” But you can only do that with so many employees before there are thousands and thousands, and you do need to rely on a survey or looking at a set of statistics or polling one group versus another group to see if there are subcultures or management versus employees or different units who have different views. But how would you try and do this in a scalable, disciplined format? What would you recommend people try and look at?
Kim: We have 16,000 employees and I know I personally try to walk to every single person’s office. No, not realistic. So, but I think you have to be disciplined, but you also have to be agile in a way, and adaptable in terms of what you’re looking at. So, we do an annual survey.
Kim: An annual culture survey for the ethics and compliance program specifically. Also, management does one for the corporate culture overall. We also have a separate diversity and inclusion employee survey. So, surveys are great. I think it’s what you do with the survey data that’s even more important than the survey. But we can get to that on the speak-up part and loop back to that part.
Kim: I keep direct feedback loops open for… So, we have ethics officers that are embedded throughout the world and in all of our functions and our business units and in different offices. And so they have open-door policies. So, we have, you know, kind of an ambassador program where people, if they’re not, you know, comfortable going to their manager or going to HR or whatever, they could talk to an ethics officer.
We have…we keep trends. And every time we get a question, we track the question, we track the topic, we track, you know, what business units are these coming from. Not just our pieces, but also the inquiries. Say, like, an inquiry is around, you know, gifts or something in one particular location in one particular market. What’s driving that? Cause analysis is very important for that.
Town halls, I’ve done a few of those, even during COVID times, are important if you see an uptick in activity in a certain office, business unit, market, directorate, whatever your divisions are called.
And leveraging the data you collect to analyze trends is, I think, incredibly important. So, it’s great if you’re hearing all kinds of things. But if you can’t kind of lay it out and look at trend lines, it can become difficult to assess what’s really going on.
So, that’s kind of the macro level. On the management level, I think giving people managers, but also local, like, HR business partners and local ethics ambassadors, ombudsman officers, whatever you call them at your organization, the tools to look at what’s going on in their sphere to assess their culture on that level is also very important, so then that can feed up and inform overall corporate culture kind of assessments.
But to get to your point, I think we discount anecdotal things too much. Like, because I often say to my boss, like, “This is what the data is saying, but anecdotally what I’m hearing is X.”
Kim: Brokering trust between people is the most important thing. So, you know, if you have data coming through your exit interviews about why people are leaving, do you really think that those people are going to look at HR and be like, “I’m leaving because my manager treated me terribly”? Like, some people will do that. A lot of people don’t want to burn the bridge, don’t want to, you know, whatever.
Kim: But they might tell their ethics officer if they trust them, you know. And then it’s like, “Anecdotally, I’m hearing that we have an issue in X market.” Right? And I think that’s important to document and keep your eyes on, too.
Giovanni: Yeah, I think those exit interviews are a great place to get some of those anecdotes. And, you know, I mean, I’ve been shocked to find out that a lot of companies have the direct manager doing the exit interview. And, I mean, we’ve all heard the stat, whatever, 73% of people leave a job because of their manager. So, that’s not going to come up, you know, especially if they’re going through interviews and, like, “Hey, can I use you as a reference?,” or whatever.
So, those kind of things, I think that, like, you have to keep an eye on where some of your measurements might be kind of giving you false signals or breaking.
Matt: Chris, I’m going to give you the last word on measuring culture, and assessment tools and techniques, and whatnot. You know, same question and same sort of material that Kim was just covering, but how does that work for you at ConvaTec? You know, what are the sort of things that you’re trying to do to get a read on where the culture is?
Christopher: Right. Well, first off, I’ll just say, Kim…you know, Kim, you can just drop the mike because, you know, you did the micro level and macro level, it was wonderful. I mean, you know, one part I do want to make in general though is there are so many different companies, different shapes and sizes. And, you know, resources are always a struggle, in any company. So, you know, like with Kim, you know, 16,000 employees, you know, clearly she has…I’m sure she has a good infrastructure, you know. And whether she admits it or not. Other companies may not have the manpower. And, you know, you’re dealing with, again, you know, doing annual, biannual surveys, what have you, you know, getting information from investigations, monitoring and auditing, actually just asking questions.
So, you know, and the other point that Kim made, and as well as Gio, is, you know, “What are you doing with the information?” And all that together, it’s a moving target. And you have to be structured and you have to have a game plan and you have to look at, you know, what are the priority issues that are coming up that need to be addressed right away, whereas some of the low-hanging fruit you can get to.
So, you know, I think we’ve all…you know, all articulated various ways to do it. You know, I think, for me, the most important is it’s not just compliance that has to, you know, be the warden of the rules and ethical activities. You know, every function has a responsibility to, you know, influence culture in a positive way.
And I know we’re going to get to the whole speak-up piece of this, but it’s just really important that, you know, the managers are armed with what resources exist and they’re competent to be able to convey those resources and those expectations. Because just because you’re really good at riding a bike doesn’t mean you’re really good at teaching someone how to ride a bike. So, you know. So, it’s really important whoever you’re putting, you know, in charge of other people, that they appreciate not only what the strategic goals are, but how to manage people.
And again, with all the other functions, you know, it’s…there’s got to be alignment. And, you know, a good culture has that alignment, they all…we’re all marching to the same beat, and we’re all reinforcing to, you know, the people within the company you’re empowered to do your job, you’re empowered to ask questions, and you’re empowered to raise your hand if you don’t know. And, you know, a good culture is going to, you know…that’s going to be evident in a good culture, in my expectations.
Matt: So, I do want to shift to talk more specifically about how to encourage a speak-up culture. And originally, I was going to ask about some of your go-to methods or techniques to show employees that the company is serious about speaking up and they will listen to you and whatnot. And it’s fascinating because I’m also keeping one eye on our chat function here, which has got a steady stream of comments back and forth to each other. It’s a great discussion. But I keep on seeing, “Employees are afraid of retaliation,” I keep on seeing people say, “It’s not about a speak-up culture, it’s a listen-up culture that they want.” And a listen-up culture implies that it is management’s job to prove to people that they’re taking this seriously.
So, I don’t know who might want to take this first, but, you know, I still want to go back to what I said a minute ago. What are some of the ways that you think the company can show, “Yes, we’re serious when we actually say we want you to speak up. We’d love to hear all the bad news and all the managers that you don’t like and how everything stinks in this division or how we’re doing something sketchy over here. We’d love to hear that kind of stuff.” Employees tend to be a very cynical lot. So, how do you try and, you know, win the hearts and minds of them? So, I’ll…
Christopher: Hey, Matt, can I actually jump in on this one?
Matt: Go right ahead. So, you start.
Christopher: So, you know, I think, you know, investigations, you know spawn a lot of these types of situations, right? And, you know, when someone has the courage to come forth and say, “Hey, I think something is going wrong,” we have a duty as a company to look into it and address it. You know, again, from the manager level, to the HR level, to compliance, whoever is involved in that process.
But, you know, the way I’ve approached it and the way I know ConvaTec is approaching it is once we evaluate the situation, we do the investigation. I circle the wagons right away with leadership, I circle the wagons right away with the people who are managing the people who are bringing things up and do a training.
And, you know, again, you’re training on, obviously, the areas that came to light. But even through that training, which I think is really important, you’re asking questions during that training. You’re not just pontificating and letting everyone listen, and then walk off. There’s got to be open dialog, there’s got to be collaboration.
And I think the best fruit that I get from those types of trainings, people ask questions, which spawn other questions, which, “All right. Well, maybe this isn’t as tight as it could be,” or, “Maybe we need to do some additional reinforcement,” or, “We have to get expert opinion to provide clear direction because it’s one of those gray areas.” But I think the more proactive we are with showing…like you’re leading us to, is we’re showing the people who are bringing things up we’re not just sitting on stuff and we’re not just telling you, “Oh, we’re going to fix this,” but no one actually see what’s been fixed or how you’re…what your approach is to fixing it.
So, I think it’s really important, that proactive circling the wagons and making sure that there is evidence that you’re taking it seriously and something is being implemented to address that person’s concerns if it’s a valid inquiry.
Matt: Kim, what do you think? Same sort of question to you about how would you encourage people and could demonstrate to them that, “Yes, the company is serious about this.”
Kim: So, everything that Chris said I would agree with. And also, I think you have to show them, all of them. Right? So, what do I mean by that? Something that I put in place when I got here to Parsons about three years ago, we do a year in review every year and we post it publicly for our employee base on all of our communications channels. And what we do there is we let people know how many cases we handled, how many inquiries we got in, and we also let them know what happened.
Now, I don’t mean details like, “Bob got in trouble and got reprimanded on this day and that day,” but we will say, “We took corrective action on X percent that we were able to substantiate. This percent of that were terminations, this percent of that was training, reprimands, other. This percent”… You know, so we kind of…we sanitize it so we’re not running into issues with privacy, and you have to be careful around some of that. You know, you can’t… But we let people know, like, “We’re listening, we’ve heard you. We’ve taken correction action where we investigated and it was warranted. And this is what that data looks like.”
We also take the culture surveys and we have an open comment box where people…open text box where they can make suggestions, talk about things that they noticed that they don’t like or that they don’t understand, or, you know, “I reported something and nothing happened.” And we bucket those up and see what the trends are. And then in part of our year in review we will say, “We heard you on these things that you want, and so next year we’re going to implement this to address those.”
On the more micro level, right? I’m going to do both again. The ethics investigator and officer, once they’re complete with an investigation, has to go back to the reporter and let them know the outcome, even if they can’t tell them the details, right? So, everyone involved gets the, “This is what happened. It happened in this manner.”
Part of that though is you do have to manage expectation from, I think, the whole way through. Sometimes you get people who don’t agree with the outcome.
Kim: And, you know, we’re bound by certain labor laws, certain internal procedures, certain things. You know, if you come in and make a complaint that someone made a joke you didn’t like and you want them fired immediately, that might not be…that might be something we give a warning for. And so you might not be satisfied, it just depends on what the factual… Every case is going to be different, right?
So, but I think communicating those clearly with expectation management, that, like, “I understand you’re very upset. You might not…the outcome may not be instant termination.” Or, like, “Oh, this isn’t a big deal,” and we’re like, “Wait a minute. Yes, it is.” Like, it’s more serious than they think it might be, you know. Kind of keeping people in the loop the whole way through and not being so cryptic where you don’t have… You know, granted, there are certain situations where you really can’t share certain pieces of information. But being as open as you possibly can during the process also engenders trust in the program and people want to use the program.
Matt: Yeah. We have several people who have been commenting about the challenges of in an ideal world you would go back to the reporter and tell them, “This is how it’s resolved.” But in the real world you might have any number of constraints that prevent you from doing that. But then the reporter thinks, “Well, they’re not listening to me,” or, “They misunderstood what my complaint was.”
I really liked your point about managing expectations, or maybe even taking it as far as giving people sort of preemptive training on, “Here’s how things might typically get resolves,” or, “Here’s how you might typically experience the end if you’re a reporter,” including the idea that we might tell you, “We investigated and we can’t tell you what’s going on,” and kind of warming them up to these potentials for maybe misconstruing that they feel like they haven’t been heard, when actually they have but there are various reasons why you can’t give them exactly what they want. I think that’s a…
Kim: Right. And just sort of to follow up on the fine point that you see in the chat. Like, not to say that we always can tell people what the resolution was, but, “Yes, we heard you and we took the actions, through the investigation, that we were able to take and that we found appropriate.” Like, to follow up with the reporter that the case is resolved, and even though we can’t kind of tell you exactly what happened, you know, I’m listening to their feedback on the process.
Kim: You know, “How was the experience for you? Did you feel heard?” Those kinds of things are very important. And I don’t think…I think a lot of places still don’t even necessarily follow up if there was…you know, it’s unsubstantiated or there was no error there, they just kind of close it out and move on. And I think you kind of owe it to your employees to at least circle back and say, you know, “We were listening. You know, I’m not able to share with you the specific actions taken in this case, but we did hear you.”
Matt: Gio, what do you think? You know, when you’re talking with various sources out there, and clients and whatnot, about how to keep people together and make sure that they feel like they’re being heard, even if they might not like exactly what they’re hearing at the end. But what do you think of what we’ve been discussing here?
Giovanni: Yeah, I think a lot of times people want to jump to, “What’s an action that I can take and check this off my list and move on?” And I think this needs to be more comprehensive than that. So, part of what we try to talk with people about, and we love when we find kindred spirits like Kim and Chris here who kind of get this and understand what the motion is, is this is not the same as just, “I’m going to run a program, I’m going to manage your project, and then I’m going to get this done and I can move on to my next quarter.” This is an ongoing thing that you need to do, and this is a lot more communication and influence than project management. And I think that, you know, as you become senior in any role, it starts to be more of that stuff. And I think that these are things that we, as compliance and ethics leaders, need to continue to always get sharper at.
But, you know, one thing is I think you want to look at what your micro cultures are on your management team, in divisions, on your compliance team, on your executive team. I think broadly a lot of people mistakenly think that, “But when we’re talking about culture, we’re talking about, like, the average employee, or all the front-line employees, and we got to kind of get them to think this stuff.” But if your compliance team doesn’t care about this and they’re more inclined because, like, people have different backgrounds and personalities, they’re more task-focused or they’re more, you know, “Well, let’s get this done,” and, “Is this good enough?,” or, “Did we kind of manage this risk versus manage culture?,” it’s going to be hard to do.
But I think as you realize what Chris and Kim have both talked about, this is communication, this is setting expectations, this is influencing someone. And we have to just admit that we’re kind of up against it here. Like, this is a difficult thing, influencing hundreds or thousands of employees on an ongoing basis. Fighting against all of the media that people see or the stories that they hear that’s going to be much more visceral of, “My friend at another company got retaliated against.” We need to fight against that perception and say, “Hey, that’s not how we do it here.”
And you got to realize that, like, on average, your employees are probably at least 100 times less concerned and knowledgeable and aware of the things that you’re doing from a cultural leadership management perspective or, you know, just from a compliance team. So, they’re probably not going to notice that, like, “Oh, I think that that person, you know, probably got disciplined,” or, like, “Oh, they must have gone through some training.” So, they’re not going to notice that, so you have to communicate around it.
And then you have to extra communicate, keep doing it. Because, you know, I think you said it, Matt, like, employees are kind of a skeptical bunch. And, you know, I mean, like, we care a ton about culture and treating people right and, you know, our values here at ComplianceLine, but we’re always fighting against this, “Oh, I’m not going to take the employee survey because it’s not actually anonymous,” or, “I’m not going to say anything because, you know, no one is going to do anything.”
So, we just kind of, like, go way beyond kind of what we think is necessary to say, “Okay, you took the survey. Here’s what these management teams are doing. Here’s the action that we’re taking.” I love the kind of closing the loop that Kim talked about of, like, “We heard this,” right? You’re summarizing it. And, you know, “We’re going to do these things from it.” And you can build your own accountability that…because you have to assume, like, someone is probably not walking into my office and saying, like, “Hello. What is compliance doing this quarter to help our speak-up culture?” They’re not going to ask it. But you’ve got to be telling them if you want them to have that perception.
And ultimately, like, I think where a lot of us as compliance and ethics leaders are going to orient to is, “What can we take action on? How can we run a program? How can we measure this?” So, if there’s where your strength is, find a way to fit this into it. Right?
We were talking about how to report this earlier. Listen. All over the market people are looking at, “How do I get my data and analytics right? How can I get the reports I need out of my software?” I think 90-plus percent of the time people are talking about reporting up. Right? If you have a standard org structure that looks like a pyramid, you’re trying to talk to the board about, “Hey, let me tell you what I did.” You’re trying to talk to finance about your ROI or talk to your CCO about what you’re doing. You should think about, “Well, how can I use the reporting and analytics I have in my software system and the things I do to report to people on the front lines?”
And, you know, I think that if you start looking at it that way and forcing some of this onto the agenda and say, “Hey, you know what? We need to be accountable to our employees, who we rely on to speak up, who have the information that we need.” These are human sensors who we need to kind of tell us about these things. And, you know, report to them, you know, in the same way that you report up to the board. Because you need their esteem and buy-in and respect, just like you need it from the board or the execs.
Matt: I want to weave in a question from the audience, a comment, really, that I’m going to turn into a question. And, Chris, maybe I’ll start with you here. I had originally been thinking about what messages you give specifically to managers. And their comment here is that all of our discussion so far implies that the employee is taking the concern to the compliance team or it’s coming in over the hotline and we know what to do with it. But this all goes out the window when the employee goes to their manager and that person does nothing with it or they handle it internally and you, the compliance and corporate culture stewards, you don’t even know this is happening. That’s a real threat.
So, how would you, in the compliance function, reach out to managers to help them understand, “Don’t do that. Please understand what a complaint actually is when you have an employee coming in, understand what you should do with it”? But if we ever wanted to worry about corporate culture versus a subculture that you don’t want, it’s a manager handling it themselves, or mishandling it, that’s how it happens. So, Chris, and then maybe Kim, what do you think about managers, how do you oversee them, how do you keep an eye on them to make sure they are the right allies and they understand what their duties are?
Christopher: I mean, I think the…you know, the person’s question happens every day.
Christopher: You know, we don’t have visibility to everything that goes on. And clearly, we do training with managers. Right? But it can’t stop there. You have to have blanket communications that go out to your entire audience of employees that explains the process.
But also, and I’ll always harp on this one point about empowerment. That, you know, again, the normal triage is if you have a question, you should first be able to go to your manager. Right? If you’re not getting a resolution from your manager, don’t feel that, “Oh, well, you’re going behind their back.” Listen, you know, you come and do your job, like your manager does and like the president of the company does, every day. And there are certain expectations that we all should, you know, have, as far as going to work. So, if you’re not getting a response from your manager, you can go to HR, you can go to compliance.
And I think with other questions, as far as, you know, how do you navigate one type of audience versus another. And a good compliance professional, a good HR person, whomever, has to be able to understand the audience and they have to be able to adapt the content and make it, you know, in such a way that they can understand it. Where it’s, again, not us just pontificating about something. And it resonates with them so they feel informed and they know how to then execute on asking a question, escalating a concern.
So, you know, it all comes down to, again, reinforcement and repetitive communication. But I’ll just say this. If a manager didn’t escalate something beyond their swim lane, you know, which they should have, I’ll tell you right now that person is, you know, going to be in hot water.
So, you know, for anybody at an organization, it doesn’t matter what your role is, you need to know when I can follow up and, if I’m not getting a resolution, who I can go to. And again, the compliance organization, as well as all the other functions, they have to make themselves available. They can’t be ivory tower people, you know, and, you know, making rules and regulations, and being, you know, the hammer. They have to be a business ally, a business partner, a business supporter, but maintaining, you know, the ethical line for not only the individuals, but for the organization.
Matt: Sure. Kim, what do you think and how do you handle the middle manager ranks there and what special attention they need, given their role?
Kim: Yeah. So, just to kind of pick up on something that Christ said. I think, in terms of, you know, if a manager doesn’t escalate something or handles it themselves, which is… it’s not just on the employees. Right? To speak up. We have to train our managers on what to look for. You know, a lot of times they don’t even know that what they’re hearing is an ethics complaint or an HR concern or a compliance issue. And they kind of try to triage it on their level, and then it just blows up, right?
So, we need to tell our managers, “Look, if you’re hearing this, that, or the other, you need to, and it’s part of our code of…it’s in our conduct that you have to, escalate that to the appropriate department, through ethics and compliance or through, you know, safety or through HR or whatever.
We also like to talk to managers about, “Listen, this is not us trying to step into your role and lead your team for you and, you know, usurp your authority. What we’re trying to do here is understand that when someone brings forward a serious concern that could put the company in legal jeopardy, you’re kind of also in jeopardy. So, let us handle it, let us investigate it. These are professionals, they’re trained investigators, they’re attorneys, they’re HR professionals, they’re auditors, whatever it is. You stay out of it for now, support your team personally. Let us handle it, we’ll come back to you and let you know what’s going on.”
We’ve had situations where we’ll take them and we’ll sanitize them right after they’re over and we’ll let people know, like, “This little thing that people tried”…”little thing,” “tried to triage themselves and it wasn’t handled properly got bigger and bigger and bigger, until it blew up and it couldn’t be handled at all.” Right? “And then it was a bad scene.”
So, I think communicating not just the speak-up to employees, but listen-up and reach out to the resources that are trained professionals in this space is almost more important, in certain cases.
Matt: I will give one example that I’ve heard of that answers that question, as well. And, Chris, it kind of picks up on what you mentioned. So, Texas Health Resources, and they’re well known for this, they’re the largest public health organization in the state of Texas. And their HR function has a policy for managers that if you get a report of sexual harassment on your team, “If it comes to you, manager, you must bring that to the HR department’s attention immediately. And if we, the HR people, ever find out that you got a report and you didn’t bring it to us immediately, we’re going to have a very painful conversation with you, Mr. Manager,” or Ms. Manager. But at the same time they are also telling employees, with posters in the break room and training manuals and everything else, “You can always use the hotline to report harassment directly to us.”
So, the managers essentially know that they cannot cover up a harassment complaint. Because if they do, then the employee will call the hotline and say, “I brought this up to the manager and they’re not doing anything,” and then suddenly you’re going to be in the hot seat. And basically they’re using one tool, policy and training with managers, and another tool, the hotline, with employees to support each other.
And I think that is very smart. And for several years running now Texas Health has been one of those best places to work for women that whoever it is who runs that, U.S. News & World Report or Forbes or whoever, Texas Health is always at the top of that list. And it’s always struck me as a very intelligent approach to use multiple tools in the compliance officer toolkit to advance the objective. And, you know, they’ve got a very good corporate culture there.
We only have a few more minutes and I want to drop a couple of other questions here. So, somebody was asking, “Do you have a conversation with the reporter about what he or she expects the outcome to be if the allegations are substantiated?” And maybe Kim, and then Chris, and then Gio, I’ll ask you each what you think of that. Because, Kim, it gets to your point about managing expectations. Do you sort of preemptively answer that on a case-by-case basis? What do you think of that idea?
Kim: Yes, we actually have that question as part of our sort of standard script in a lot of our investigations, which is not, “What do you expect it to be?,” but, “What is your desired outcome here? What would make you comfortable going forward in this situation?” Because sometimes it’s just, you know, “I just want them to apologize,” or, “I just want to sit down with them and try to figure out why we’re not getting along.” It’s not always, like, “I want them fired.” But then there are some that, you know, “I want them fired.” And then you might need to pull out your…you know, if you have…your organization has an organizational justice kind of sliding scale of, like, “These are firable offenses, these are not on the first offense.” You know, you kind of walk them through, “This is what we’re looking at, these are the options, these are the ways this could go,” and just kind of making sure they understand the lay of the land. But also, you know, a lot of times people don’t even necessarily want that huge hammer, they just want someone to say they’re sorry or maybe they just want to move their desk.
You know, and so kind of getting an idea of where they are, I think, is very important.
Matt: Chris, what do you think of that idea?
Christopher: I mean, no, I agree with Kim. I mean, I think, you know, every matter has its own, you know, variables in it. You know, whether it’s an employee relations matter versus an anti-corruption matter. You know, and, you know, clearly it’s you always want to ask in general, you know, “How can we do better as a company to address certain things so we can incorporate that into training or tweak policies and procedures and things like that?”
So, I think there’s always a delicate dance on, you know, getting direction, in theory, from the reporter about how the company should resolve a matter. So, it’s the finesse of being the investigator, it’s the finesse of the company’s process for addressing matters. So, it all depends, but I think at the end of the day you need to have a consistent approach each time you investigate a matter, you know, with different criteria, that, again, there’s some consistency around it and there’s follow-through. You know, how that follow-through happens is going to be different from company to company, again, based on the severity of the matter and the type of matter.
Matt: Gio, in the interest of time, I want to ask you a slightly different question.
Matt: Because one thing that had been on my mind was how a company can use the resource of the CEO and other senior executives, because the executive messaging. Not just what’s in the training materials and in the employee handbook, but just the executives who are trying to talk about the importance of corporate culture and trying to convince, like we said, the sometimes cynical or skeptical employees that this is serious. Like, how…you know, what should they be doing and how can they actually do it and how hard is this for senior executives to basically stand up there and say, “We’re happy to be in the stockades if we make a mistake, we want to hear this,” and how to convince people that, “Yes, this is a real thing, the CEO is looking to have this culture”? What would you…what are your thoughts about that?
Giovanni: I think you need to start with an understanding from leadership, be it the CEO or somebody else, that there’s an exchange that happens here and there’s a little bit of giving up some of your rights or power or authority as you engage people in this, right? The command-and-control approach that says, “Hey, you know what? You know, sit down and be quiet and I’ll tell you what you need to do,” you maintain a lot of power. And this is more, you know, the culture that, you know, more and more companies need to build is, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to ask you what you think. And I’d like to know what you…where you would like this to go.” And then, big shocker here, I’m going to treat you like an adult and a human, and explain to you what the structure is here, rather than just saying, “Okay, leave it with me, go back to work.”
So, I think understanding that, you know, this may be a different approach than you’re inclined to take, and then also understanding, like, you got to know your audience, right? So, that CEO is probably not thinking about policies and audits and speak-up culture and, you know, culture generally as much as we might be as compliance leaders, so let’s make it easy for them. Write a script for them, suggest, “Hey, I need you to spend five minutes recording this video,” and make it so that they can calendar it, and then give it to you and empower you. But, you know, listen, it’s pretty standard to have, you know, your executive write an intro to your code of conduct, that’s a good idea. You know, they can do an intro on your e-learning and your video training.
They can, you know, participate in, you know, maybe not just sending out a broad message of, “Hey, here’s a video of me saying we care about people because they’re our most important asset,” but why don’t you get them to be your mouthpiece for some things that you want to communicate? “Hey, you know what? Our compliance team really made a lot of good progress here,” or, “Hey, look at these”… You know, culture is what we celebrate and what we reject. So, have your executive or have, you know, maybe leaders within a division, talk about, “Hey, you know what? Someone spoke up and we found out about this thing and we’ve retrained everybody. And we’re counting… You know, so, now let’s engage in some accountability. We’re counting on this helping that issue.”
And get them to say these things that, listen, I mean, I hope this isn’t offensive to anybody, but a lot of employees are going to pay more attention to a message from the leader of their division or the CEO more than even the CCO. So, use them to be your mouthpiece and make it easy for them to be an ally. Because, listen, what a lot of this is, this is not kind of a black and white two sides of compliance and, “The good people at the company care about people. And everyone else who isn’t doing what we think they should, they’re all bad people and sociopaths.” There’s a bunch of people in the middle who we can get on board with this initiative, understand that work, actively trying not to retaliate against you, understand that we want you to speak up. We just need to make it easier for them to adopt it.
And doing some of those, you know…having your executive or CEO make some of those statements or, you know, using the authority that other people have and, you know, the popularity or the attention that they have to be an ally. Make it easy for them to get this halo effect of, “Hey, you know what? I’m working with the ethics team because I want my team and the people around me to be treated properly.”
And, you know, allow them to benefit from, you know, the culture that you’re trying to build, because that’s the beautiful thing about what we’re talking about here. As you have a speak-up culture, as you have a strong culture that cares about people and treats them ethically, it’s not just, like, the execs get paid a bunch more and everyone gets a pay decrease. Everyone can live in a better environment and we can meet the challenges and meet the mission of our organization better when we make the right investments in these things.
Matt: Well, we are at 1:00 and we’re at the top of the hour, so we’re going to have to leave it there. Gio, you get the last word. But, Christopher Corallo from ConvaTec and Kim Urbanchuk from Parsons and Gio from ComplianceLine, you gave us great conversation. Thank you to everybody who was filling in all of these comments all the way through the whole hour, too, I really appreciate that.
So, that concludes this podcast. I don’t, Gio, if you have any other farewell remarks, but thank, everybody, for listening.
Giovanni: Yeah. Just thanks for joining, everyone. Kim and Chris, you guys have been phenomenal on this webinar and I so appreciate you lending your expertise and your genius to really our audience here. Everyone who’s been in the comments, I really love that. So, please come back next time and jump in there. Keep an eye out for, you know, we’re going to be doing some LinkedIn Lives to follow up on this. And, you know, get in touch with us at ComplianceLine if we can put you in touch with somebody or share some resources that we have that can help you do this. Obviously, we do case management and hotline and e-learning and a bunch of other things that you can do.
Also, just a quick plug. We’re putting some resources out there, Compliance Week is coming up. It’s, you know, coming quickly. So, we have a landing page with a bunch of ideas and resources to help maybe just brainstorm and give you some ideas or some things that you can launch. So, we’d love to have that be a resource for you.
Finally, we will send the recording for this around. And let us know what we, on the ComplianceLine team, can do to help you make your world a better workplace. Thanks, everybody.
Christopher: Thanks, everyone.