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Does the compliance officer own corporate character?

Trust in business has plummeted to a historic low, according to a recent study by Ethisphere Institute, and the composite score of trust across many industries is a cause for concern.

The  2014 Ethics Communications Best Practices Report provides a snapshot into some of the key trends in business ethics and features insights and perspectives from industry leaders, academics, and corporate governance and legal professionals.   

“If we talk about what we are doing well, then we are not being transparent,” says Mitchell Mackler, geographic head of legal, Americas, at Wipro, a multinational information technology consulting and system integration company.

“There are bound to be bumps in any organization, and I believe that by being open, honest and transparent, we hold ourselves accountable to the public at large, our shareholders, nongovernmental organizations, etc., and in turn, continue to build a stronger company.”

While transparency remains a hot button issue among members of the C-suite, the report suggests that an emphasis on ethics in communications can drive greater profitability and mitigate risks.  

“A focus on ethics within internal and external communications is the right thing to do, it is also critical to the life of your organization,” said Paul Gennaro, senior vice president and chief communications officer at AECOM.

He added that the current state of trust in organizations presents an opportunity for the entire C-suite — ncluding communications, compliance, governance and legal professionals — to rebuild public confidence. 

The report notes some emerging trends in corporate ethics that leaders should keep in mind when communicating an authentic message:

  • Be Bold. You can’t take “no” for an answer if you are doing the right thing. Communication requires courage, especially in today’s transparent environment. What you do matters, but how you do it matters more.
  • Communicating across cultures. We need to be sure we are communicating effectively across different countries and cultures, which can define ethics differently. Multinational corporations need to understand these differences and communicate accordingly.
  • We all own ethics. No one person in an enterprise owns ethics, just as not one person owns trust. While compliance officers can help lead the dialogue, it is everyone’s responsibility to spark conversations around ethics, regardless of his or her role in the enterprise.
  • Reputations are not managed, they are earned. Companies need to understand that today’s marketplace is different than it was even five years ago, when enterprises relied purely on operational data to measure success. For companies to thrive today, they need a strong track record of public trust.

The 2014 Ethics Communications Best Practices Report is available here


Aarti Maharaj is a Senior Writer in AECOM’s Corporate Communications Department and a freelance reporter on corporate governance, compliance and ethics.

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  1. Thank you Aarti for this excellent post. A few notes:

    As you know, ethics is a component of trust. The two have different meanings, and the definitional waters remain muddied.

    While ethics may have a closer association with compliance, trust (and reputation) appear to be owned by the communications function in most large companies.

    At the end of the day, it's all about values and culture, not assigning roles to who is responsible for ethics or trust, and certainly not "siloizing" them. If trust is not built into the corporate DNA, and reinforced daily, it doesn't matter who "owns" it or how it's communicated.

    Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director, Trust Across America-Trust Around the World

  2. Agreed! Barbara! Values and culture can help set the right tone as well! Thank you for the feedback.

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