by Jeff Kaplan
The area of “other” C&E communications (meaning other than training) covers a lot of ground. It is also utterly indispensable to C&E.
Certainly it matters to the Department of Justice (the DOJ). Notably, in 2012 DOJ declined to prosecute a prominent investment bank for FCPA violations due, in part, to the strong anti-corruption communications plan the bank had put in place prior to the offense at issue. And, in the 2020 C&E program evaluation standards DOJ emphasized the importance of communications. This is not surprising, given that the Sentencing Guidelines make it clear that a program includes “otherwise disseminating information” in addition to training. Practically speaking, it also makes little sense to rely on one-time training when employees are daily bombarded with other messages and pressures.
Given how vast this territory is I can’t catalogue all the good (and not-so-good) practices from my more than 30 years in the field. But hopefully some of these “field notes” will be useful to practitioners, particularly those who are new to C&E.
For many reasons it may be important to have a C&E communications committee. Such a committee can help both in keeping the communications current and in disseminating them. A typical approach regarding membership would be to have the committee co-chaired by the CECO and a high-ranking person in HR – with others as associate members or just as-needed attendees. For example, it could be good to have input from a company marketing or advertising expert who understands how to reach people effectively with a message.
Companies should have written compliance communications plans. Such a plan typically covers anywhere from one year to three years, with longer being generally better for various reasons.
Such a plan will typically list by month the communications to be delivered; who is to receive the communication – by position, location, etc.; who is in charge of preparing/acquiring and delivering the communication; and any other pertinent requirements or impediments (such as the need for translations).
One of the most common forms of communication is to have a senior manager speak to employees at a town hall or other meeting about the importance of C&E to the company. When done right this can be a very effective way of setting the “tone at the top.” And, when “cascaded” downward – i.e., where managers deliver the message to their subordinates – it can be a highly effective means of communication. It can help also if managers are actually evaluated in their own annual assessments on how well they did this, so it is not done on a perfunctory basis.
Another form of C&E communication is sending an email to all or some employees. This can come from senior managers or compliance personnel. The former have the advantage of “clout,” which is obviously important. The advantage of the latter is that it can serve as a reminder about the availability of the C&E department, which some employees tend to forget.
Other vehicles for C&E communications include newsletters, intranet sites, internal TV networks, posters and computer screens that can be locked where an employee has not taken their required training. Consider what vehicles employees routinely use for their own communication and build on that. Perhaps your own version of a compliance “Tik Tok” will be effective.
Finally, companies should consider requiring that all meetings begin with an “ethics moment.” These can be combined with “safety moments,” where applicable.
For some topics a single communication is not enough. For those instances one should design and deploy a C&E marketing campaign.
Another approach is to package key company documents (such as the code of conduct and the speak-up policy) for distribution to managers as a C&E “toolkit.”
Another core element of the Sentencing Guidelines and for any effective program is to measure how well it is performing. Companies should be sure their messages are actually reaching employees, but also that they have some impact. A prevalent form of metric of whether the communications is actually happening is the frequency of receipt of communications by employees (i.e., the number of views of a compliance article, newsletter, etc.) A related metric that indicates impact is the number of reports to the concerns line after a speak-up communications campaign.
To get a better assessment of actual impact companies can also use interviews and surveys of employees on what type of company communications they think are most helpful in promoting compliance.
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In our years of assessing compliance and ethics (C&E) programs, my partner Jeff Kaplan and I have pinpointed several key attributes that we consider essential to an effective program, including