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No, Mary Barra wasn’t crazy

Last November, the FCPA Blog reported on Mary Barra’s “crazy” idea. She replaced the company’s ten-page dress code with two words: Dress Appropriately.

Despite giving the HR department fainting fits, the end result was positive according to the FCPA Blog’s report. “If you let people own policies themselves — especially at the first level of people supervision — it helps develop them,” Barra said, commenting on the success of the policy revision.

The FCPA Blog then posed the challenge: can that approach, based on simplicity and accessibility, work for other policies? Even ones viewed as the first line of defense against corporate liability? Anti-corruption for example? Or, as the FCPA Blog put it:

How far toward a “Don’t pay bribes” approach to compliance can a company go? If not all the way, is there middle ground, somewhere between three words and 50 pages, that might work better?

The answer is yes.

Multinational Fortune 500 companies have jettisoned the legal jargon and created accessible one-page anti-corruption policies that employees can actually understand, easily navigate and comply with easily. In doing so, they confronted and resolved the typical lawyers’ response to simplifying policies: “if we don’t include the kitchen sink, including pots and pans, then regulators will accuse us of leaving gaps.”

Never mind the fact that many employees won’t know what they are supposed to do when faced with policy provisions such as:

[You must not]:

(i) make; or
(ii) offer or promise to make; or
(iii) authorize or procure anyone to make:

any payment or gift of money or anything of value, or gift or conveyance of any financial or other advantage, either directly or indirectly, to a third party if they know or suspect that it will be offered to or for the benefit of any person (including a Public Official whether “domestic” or “foreign”) and that it will be (or may appear to be) inducing, securing, or rewarding the improper performance by any person of any function or activity (whether or not it will be done to obtain or retain business or a business advantage).

Pity the non-English speaking person trying to figure out if they can buy anyone a cup of coffee. 

What would Mary Barra do?

The thought leaders in this area have an answer. Take a one-page policy approach that uses a landing page for the essential points and links to FAQs and procedures for each area of the policy. Here’s one example:

For those worried that nothing less than a word for word restatement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the policy isn’t sufficient, linking to the relevant statutes, including those that apply in specific countries, is a good solution. By clicking on the right hand column, employees are taken to a procedures page for that topic that explains clearly what they are expected to do. Once an employee clicks on a topic link, such as “accurate books and records,” they land on a page with FAQs such as:

Q: What are some requirements for keeping accurate and complete records?

A: It is important that you correctly record the amount, apply the correct accounting category, and provide an accurate description.  For example, recording an extra payment to a customs official to speed up customs clearance as “a marketing expense” would violate our procedures.

If approvals are required under the topic and the organization has a platform with the right functionality, this page can link to an approval form, the relevant subject matter expert and capture any interactions that take place as part of the approval. This data and different clickable FAQ topics can provide insights that help guide training and risk remediation to further operationalize the organization’s E & C program.

So, to answer the FCPA Blog’s challenge, by simplifying policies and making them easy to navigate, E & C programs can increase employee engagement and comprehension without sacrificing compliance. 


Susan Divers, pictured above, is a senior advisor with LRN Corporation and has more than 30 years experience in the ethics and compliance area, including serving as the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer of a Fortune 500 corporation. She can be contacted here

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1 Comment

  1. Love this read! Good stuff.

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