CEO’s Daily Brief

The President of the United States is briefed daily on matters of national security.

Why? Because it’s considered to be an important topic.

How often is your CEO briefed on matters of corporate ethics?

Drip-drip-drip vs. big-boom

My organization will be launching a revised Code of Ethics later this year.

We are creating a communications campaign to support the launch. Employees will want to know what’s new with the Code, why we revised it and how this new document is supposed to help them to their job.

Rather than creating a traditional launch campaign that is short and loud – to get attention, we are creating one that will be softer and sustained – to be absorbed.

For example, we are working on a series of short emails that will contain a “hook” to make employees click on a link to learn more. One of them will contain a picture of a gift on a desk and read something like “You arrive at your desk and see a beautifully-wrapped gift with a card that bears the logo of a supplier. Want to know what’s inside? Click here!” This will bring them to a webpage where we tell the story of a real case, explain what gifts employees are allowed to accept, why we have a gift policy and, obviously, a link to the relevant conflict-of-interests section in the new Code.

A drip-drip-drip approach will keep the conversation going for several months and will allow us to adjust our communications as we receive feedback. It’s not as intense as the big-boom approach but we expect a deeper effect.


When it comes to marketing, word of mouth is said to be ten times more influential than a commercial. People trust their friends more than they trust a for-profit company.

E&C professionals working in large organizations face the same credibility problem when they rely on mass marketing to deploy a new policy, a new training or implement a new control. Employees will buy in more if they believe it is important to their supervisor.

And that’s true of every level of supervision, all the way to the CEO. Which means that our CEO can’t rely solely on global video conferences to support our key activities. She must have a series of small group or one-on-one meetings with her subordinates, take the time to convey how important this is to her, and ask them to do the same down the chain.

It’s more work upfront but we all know the waste associated with initiatives launched without proper support.

Daily assessment

Last time I checked, E&C professionals had more on their plate than they had time for.

Perhaps it’s a good thing because their budget doesn’t adequately cover what they do have time to work on in the first place.

In a healthy organization, this tension is beneficial. It forces us to focus our resources on what is most important. Other functions like HR, finance, and EH&S all feel the same tension.

When the tension gets too strong, our first instinct is to wish for more resources. Oftentimes, we would be better served by eliminating an activity and reallocating our existing resources to a higher priority. Everyone’s stress levels would go down, an existing priority would get extra attention, and our program would get stronger.

We don’t like to admit that some of the things we work on today could be abandoned tomorrow. It gives the impression that we made a bad judgment call today when we decided to work on them. But the world changes everyday and we need to adjust our priorities accordingly.

Every day requires a new assessment.

Bad news doesn’t get better with age

E&C professionals should survey their employees on a regular basis.

Not to askĀ whether we should have policies, trainings, controls and audits but rather to determine whether they are are helpful or can be improved. Our programs are supposed to keep our employees and our organizations safe.

Earlier this year I spoke with a colleague from another organization who was trying to decide whether to include certain questions on an employee survey. The questions seems pretty standard to me. “Have you witnessed wrongdoing in the last 12 months?” “If so, what kind of wrongdoing?” “Have you reported it?” “If not, why not?” Combined with specific demographic data, these questions can pinpoint areas of concerns in your organization and allow you to take action.

My colleague’s reaction was unexpected. “I’m not sure I want to ask those questions. If we learn that employees are witnessing but not reporting [insert wrongdoing here], it could look really bad.”

Well, it could look a lot worse if an incident is made public and reporters find out that management was hiding its head in the sand.

We are not paid to hold our breath and cross our fingers.

A good cause?

My wife and I attended a fundraiser this weekend. The event was outdoors, pool-side. The evening weather was perfect. There was food and drinks and a live band and smiles all around. Along with 50 or so other attendees, we made a small donation to a worthy cause and had a great time mingling with friends. Almost effortlessly, thousands of dollars were raised. And we look forward to next year’s event.

What makes such an event successful? A good cause, someone taking the initiative to host, a handful of other volunteers bringing food and playing music, and a few dozen friends willing to donate to charity the amount they would have spent on a restaurant dinner.

It seems to me that this is a good recipe for an effective E&C program. We are the host of our programs and if we communicate effectively about its importance, others will join our efforts.

The key, of course, is effective communications. Others must believe what we believe. They must believe in the cause. We need to keep our message simple and positive. When we donate to charity, we like to know in what simple, specific way we are making the world a better place for someone. When we try to sell our E&C program to employees, they want to know how this policy, this training, this control is going to make their job easier and keep them safe.

If we can’t do that, they won’t donate freely. And they won’t look forward to next year’s event.

I made this for you

At the ECI Fellows meeting this week, several attendees told me they could never think of something to write about every day on a blog.

We spoke and they soon realized that they could if they focused on documenting their journey rather than trying to create compelling and dazzling content.

The point of writing a blog post is not to show others how smart you are. It’s to force you to pay attention, notice things, think about them and then drive you to action.

If I were to document my day today, it would look like this:

  • 10 AM – Work on the Code launch communications campaign with a vendor (by phone)
  • 11 AM – Meet with a new employee in person
  • 12 PM – Share my experience of conducting the Global Business Ethics Survey with a colleague from another industry (by phone)
  • 2 PM – Phone call with a vendor who created a training module for my organization and figure out how we can chop it into shorter pieces and distribute them as vignettes to our employees.
  • 3 PM – Meet with a new employee in person
  • 3:15 PM – Meet in person with colleagues from the Communications department to discuss our new internal blog features.

Most E&C professionals deal with similar issues and, as you can imagine, it would be easy for anyone to share how they are approaching these activities, the challenges they face, their insights, etc.

Seth Godin would give the following advice:

Write under a pseudonym if you need to. The point of putting your writing out there is to force you to think, to take a risk, and to get feedback. It’s to be an artist and be generous and say “Here, I made this for you.”

So here, I made this for you.