Deloitte’s Sharon Allen was one of the lunch keynote speakers at last week’s ECOA Business Ethics and Compliance Conference in Anaheim, California. The focus of Allen’s presentation was on ethics and trust in the workplace. Allen stated “Your ethics has never been more necessary, and this difficult.” I feel this statement holds tremendous value and truth when it comes to describing the current state of ethics in the business world. Companies and their employees are under a lot of pressure to comply with a growing number of laws and regulations, as well as internal policies, all while turning a profit and increasing stock performance.
A Difficult Task
Achieving both of these goals in an ethical way can be challenging as the state of the economy continues to impact the decisions people make. Allen’s advice to overcoming the challenge:
“Ensure that what is right is always integrated into company decisions that make up your brand. Distance has shrunk and the global workplace is now seemingly local. Ethics is needed to keep these worlds together.”
How Did We Get Here?
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Allen also discussed some of the events and influences that have brought us to the point we are at today:
- 1990’s: Longest period of economic expansion in US history. From this time period, the idea of entitlement arose, as well as the introduction of the influence of pop culture on ethical behaviour.
- Pop Culture: Allen noted the famous Gordon Gecko quote from the film “Wall Street,” “greed is good.” During this time, fictional characters were seen as so-called heroes, driving real behaviour.
- Millennials (Employees aged 19-29): This group is often referred to as “generation me.” This age group acknowledges that their morals may not be as high as prior generations. At Deloitte, they have recognized the importance of developing engaging training for this group to help build ethical decision makers. Deloitte uses characters such as “Casey Conduct” to guide employees through interactive videos during training to keep this group “dialed in.” Many members of this generation spend less time at a particular company before moving on, forcing companies to learn how to deal with higher turnover rates and the costs associated with it. Some strengths Allen identified as being characteristic of the “millennial” group include:
i. Educated/ Smart
Developing Trust and Ethics in the Workplace
During her speech, Allen said:
“When we don’t care that people are part of each transaction, relationships can’t happen.”
Allen feels that there’s a shortage of trust in today’s workplaces, heavily influenced by the economy. In order to build strong relationships at work, Allen suggests engaging in direct, regular and open contact with company leadership. As an ethics and compliance department, Allen suggests asking and speaking up to increase program visibility. Let people know about the good things your company does. A message from Allen to ethics and compliance officers:
“Don’t let others define your mission.”
Dollars and Sense
The equation mentioned at the beginning of the post, Ethics + Trust= Good Business should be considered common sense. In my opinion, no cost is too big to ensure there are sufficient resources in place to develop an ethical workplace. I feel that ethical companies benefit in the long run, as their commitment to doing the right thing will outweigh another company’s desire to make a quick buck. However, some ethics and compliance departments find themselves in a position where they must plead their case and prove that ethics means profit- which is incredibly difficult. Sharon Allen stated that it’s not the cost of ethics and compliance, but what it’s worth- and in Allen’s mind, ethics and compliance is worth the company’s $11 billion in revenue last year.