Amid the string of corporate scandals that has left behind a climate of suspicion, corporate leaders are exploring new ways to build and maintain public trust.
According to a recent opening keynote at the Ethisphere/Thomson Reuters annual Global Ethics Summit in New York City on March 20 and 21, the key is working with the right people to avoid potential reputational risks.
“Company concerns are very much beyond just business conduct. Personal behavior and personal conduct now more than ever can reflect poorly upon the company,” said Larry Thompson, executive vice president, government affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary of PepsiCo.
Moderated by Holly J. Gregory, a partner at Sidley Austin, the discussion provided insights into the evolving role of the compliance officer.
“Social media is great because it allows us to get closer to our customers,” said Randal Milch, executive vice president, public policy and general counsel for Verizon. “It can also be a potential threat to out reputation, so it should be carefully monitored at the same time.”
Another panel discussed ethical communication in today’s business atmosphere of increased transparency.
Dr. Edward Queen, director of the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program at Emory University’s Center for Ethics, Gary Sheffer, General Electric’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, and Grace Wu de Plaza, deputy ethics and compliance officer at the Nature Conservancy each stressed the importance of creating a “speak-up” culture.
“An organization must strive to minimize the costs of doing the right thing. It has to make it as easy as possible for employees to do so,” Queen said. “Examples of this can be as straightforward as simplifying the procedures for people to get advice on addressing ethically challenging work situations or making it easier for people to report perceived wrongdoing.”
Paul Gennaro, senior vice president and chief communications officer at AECOM, who moderated the keynote panel, encouraged participants to work across functional areas to foster ethical corporate cultures and rebuild public trust.
He mentioned joining up the communications team with the compliance and risk teams to deliver uniform messaging to employees.
“When I speak with colleagues in the corporate communications profession about priorities and goals, I encourage them to seek out their peers in ethics and compliance,” he said. “We have an opportunity to lead the way.”
Echoing Gennaro’s sentiments, Sheffer believes that as companies expand into new territories and start collaborating with different cultures, it is best to communicate in a context that is easy for local employees to understand.
“At General Electric, we change our messaging according to the target audience,” he said. “In India, for example, we created Bollywood advertisements to foster employee engagement, and we continue to do the same in other countries.”
Aarti Maharaj is a Senior Writer in AECOM’s Corporate Communications Department and a freelance reporter on corporate governance, compliance and ethics.