April 09, 2009
Not long ago, at an anti-bribery conference in Chicago, the compliance officer for an American corporation told the crowd of fellow compliance officers, “You have to start out with the assumption that all marketing people are more or less criminals. You have got to pen them in with a set of rules as clear and sharp as barbed wire, or they will run wild.” The audience, almost entirely Americans, practically broke into applause.
In contrast, at a similar event in Europe, a participant asked in advance, “This isn’t going to be an American-style training session, is it? These people know right from wrong. They don’t need to be treated like criminals.”
So which approach is better?
This is an active debate in anti-bribery compliance circles: Should companies take a values-based or rules-based approach to training? These two approaches are often characterized as “ethics” versus “compliance.” A values-based or ethics approach assumes that employees want, and generally can be counted on, to do the right thing. Proponents of this style believe that there can never be enough rules to address every situation, and so an employer’s relationship with its employees must be based on trust. On the other side of the debate, proponents of the rules-based or compliance approach say that good employees need to know exactly where the line is so they can avoid over-stepping it, and that bad employees need to know at what point their behavior will be punished.
In reality, neither approach will work alone. Simply laying out the rules is a losing proposition because the issues and situations involved with bribery are too complex to render down to ten commandments— or a hundred. Furthermore, training that delivers a long, condescending list of dos and don’ts may work, but if the employees feel as if they are being scolded like naughty two-year-olds, it will inspire their contempt in return. On the other hand, appealing to the bright angels of everybody’s better nature will cause more than half of the crowd to cross their arms, roll their eyes and close their minds. There is also a real danger that poorly aimed training will compel participants, Goldilocks-like, to choose the option that is just right, overlooking subtleties and encouraging hypocrisy.
Another problem is that both of these approaches to training assume that a company’s employees are a community of like-minded individuals, sharing a single set of values, goals and risk-to-reward analyses. Like a school of fish, these employees are thought to swim collectively either toward safe water or away from danger zones. Such approaches ignore the diversity within a corporate community and, in so doing, miss the opportunity to speak to the different priorities of each employee. There should not be just two training styles, just as there are not just two kinds of employees.
Every company has some idealists in its ranks. These employees put their work life into the context of the greater community, even when the connections aren’t apparent to others. They are sincere in their commitment to good corporate citizenship and want their employers to go beyond what is strictly required of them–they want them at the front of the compliance pack. To launch into anti-bribery training with a list of rules and penalties is to squander the enthusiasm of this group. For this community, it is more effective to discuss the social, health and security problems that bribery spawns rather than to show slides of executives escorted out of court rooms in handcuffs. This group is concerned that bribery undermines fledgling democracies, enables smugglers to introduce potentially hazardous counterfeit pharmaceutical products into markets and makes it easier for criminals to ship guns, narcotics and people across international borders. It is important to inspire the idealists in your midst; they can be powerful supporters as you roll-out an anti-bribery program.
Another group of employees fall into the ethical majority. They may not be concerned about the global implications of their business strategies like the idealists, but this ethical majority certainly wants to know how those strategies will affect their company. This community prefers to work for a company with a good reputation. While idealists may want their employers to be at the front of any compliance pack, this group is content to have their company operating in the low-risk, low-profile, middle-of-the-pack. It is important for these employees to know how their marketing strategies, which may include wining and dining customers or sponsoring lavish events, can impact corporate reputation for good and for ill. In keeping with the ethics or valued-based approach to anti-bribery compliance training, these employees will understand the New York Times test: Would you be content to read about this conduct on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow? They need to hear how effective anti-bribery compliance can enhance the corporation’s standing in the community and, as a result, shareholder value.
A third group of employees is made up of the bottom-liners and box-checkers. They want to know what the rules are so they can shoulder up next to them and stay there. They want to do the absolute minimum necessary to stay on the right side of company policy and the law. They see little value in good corporate citizenship and prefer to leave ethical leadership to competitors, often assuming that it is an unnecessary expense and a drag on business. While they don’t set out to violate company policy or to violate any laws, they cut corners until tires are screeching. If your bottom-liners are in management positions, they’re probably sending the message to their teams that they must keep their eyes on the strict interpretation of the rules not because the rules have any inherent value, but because violations will incur the wrath of the law department or ethics office. These employees need to hear what the rules are with as much detail as can be provided. Finally, they need to hear that they will be held accountable for violations of these rules and encouraged to seek the advice of the department responsible for anti-bribery compliance when there is any doubt.
And finally, although it’s rarely discussed, all companies of any size have at least a handful of criminals—those who knowingly break the rules for their own ends. Here, a purely values-based approach is disastrous. These people will invariably participate in training at some point and won’t be moved by appeals to idealism, the likelihood of corporate reputational damage or even bright-line rules for business practices. Indeed, many trainers fear that the latter approach simply trains the criminals in more effective techniques to evade detection. This community–for as long as they’re with you–needs training that focuses on controls and consequences. These employees need to understand that the rules are enforced, that sanctions are imposed and, if true, that the company will offer up those who knowingly violate corporate anti-bribery policy to the enforcement agencies. These employees need to leave training asking themselves whether they look good in orange.
So how can anti-bribery training meet the varied needs of all these audiences? It isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Excellent training will address the priorities and goals, at least for part of the time, of each learner. Training should begin with a clear statement from senior management about the importance of the issue to the company. Opening remarks can weave together messages about good corporate citizenship in the global community and about the importance of the company’s reputation, while introducing the nightmarish alternative when companies get this wrong: Lengthy and expensive investigations, management distraction, disruption to business, roving compliance monitors, massive fines and, possibly, imprisonment. This should get everyone’s attention. Then the training should delineate the company’s rules and sanctions, discuss grey areas and direct employees to additional resources.
It’s often helpful, in closing, to align the company with the “good guys.” International crime of all kind requires bribery at some point: forged documents, smuggled goods, false certifications. Steering clear of these practices should be an easy sell to most of your audience. For the remaining few, well, hardly anyone looks good in orange.
This article was originally published by Alexandra Wrage in Ethisphere magazine in June 2008.