SAI Global has released a white paper entitled “Predicting Risk: A Strategic Culture Framework for the C-Suite” (the “White Paper”). I recently visited with the White Paper’s author, Caterina Bulgarella, who is a culture architect and ethics collaborator with SAI, about the White Papers, her research and the issues developed from it.  In this White Paper, she introduces a strategic culture framework which compliance professionals and companies can use to not only help them assess their ethical culture but provides a framework to map ethics to their business process in a manner which improves ethics and compliance and improves overall business processes leading to more robust efficiencies and greater profitability. You can listen to the podcasts each day at 10 AM on the FCPA Compliance Report and on JDSupra or if you want to binge out they are all available on my iTunes site, beginning at noon today.

Bulgarella believes we are in a time of profound change and the speed at which things are changing. The fourth industrial revolution is happening now and bringing sweeping change. Over the next five years, 50 billion machines will be connected across the globe, on pace to revolutionize the way companies and people operate. This makes everything uncertain and ambiguous and that the changes are rewriting our value system faster than we can even realize. She provided a couple of examples. More generally, we know technology is changing how we act, operate, deliver and do many other things. More specifically, simply consider Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how this tool is going to cause a loss in privacy and confidentiality. Some of the questions it raises is whether these changes are ethical or not? Is the pace of change and the change itself a reasonable price to pay to or should we be more cautious?

When you overlay all this with the complexities of not only the modern world but also the current business environment, you can see the need for a more coherent framework for discussion and analysis of ethics and compliance. What may have been acceptable business practices can change literally overnight; here you can witness the number of companies that are scrambling to explain their contracts with ICE and that they were not involved with the child separation policies instituted by the Trump Administration. With so much at stake and with so many variables, companies need a more robust framework to help them make not only the right decision but ethical decisions as well.

The strategic culture framework was created to help improve many of these corporate practices in tangible ways. It integrates a wealth of insights from behavioral science, as what we know about human behavior today is vastly more precise than what we knew even five years ago. Many of these insights have not been incorporated in organizational practices and that is where the strategic culture framework comes in, to connects the dots. The strategic culture framework explains how culture affects people’s ability to do the right thing and what risks an organization faces.

The strategic culture framework is a model for maximum impact because it identifies the two culture dimensions that organizations should actively manage to reduce risk and increase ethical performance. The first dimension is delegation of ethical dilemmas. This is the extent to which the culture of an organization creates dilemmas and leaves these dilemmas un-addressed. The second dimension is distance to which the culture builds ethical capacity. This means that the culture must build resources, practices, and resilience that help people to deal with ethical challenges successfully.

Bulgarella noted that while there is really a broad and deep discourse around corporate values and around the idea of building business ethics around corporate values, she does not believe there is sufficient dialogue as to what organizations actually value. It is what the organization actually values that ultimately shapes how things are done and what is given priority within that organization. Company values shape the decision-making and execution and it is critical to understand them, together with the consequences they can create and risks they entail.

Bulgarella concluded with some thoughts on corporate culture, which she characterized as “the DNA of an organization which goes to the heart of an organization’s identity and purpose.” This is really what an organization believes and it is the “source of the substratum to all that is human, all the human endeavors in an organization.” However, she also cautioned that culture is a complex architecture. It is important to keep in mind the complexity of every corporate culture, when trying to implement any for best practices ethics and compliance program.

Bulgarella listed several different complexities of corporate culture and how corporate culture shows up in the way an organization’s systems and processes are designed; it shows up in the way people behave in their types of expectations and it can even show up in their mindset. This can make it difficult to simply find one formula or one definition for culture. I would encourage people to focus on what the organization beliefs and values and recognized the corporate values of an organization’s belief system. That distinction can be critical.

We also discussed where the strategic culture framework could be going and how corporations can utilize the it to improve not only their culture and values but their business performance as well. Bulgarella emphasized the strategic culture framework is a tool help navigate complexity. She has seen organizations use the it in variety of ways to manage risk and ethical performance. Moreover, the strategic culture framework is a strategic tool that can be used to assess and measure culture, to recalibrate the key cultural determinance, to hold stakeholders accountable and to help executive teams and Boards take a comprehensive look at the risk profile of their organizations. The strategic culture framework can deliver a very concise and powerful map of both risk and ethical performance because it cuts across different layers of culture as it provides actionable guidance for the reason that it highlights a key priority.

The strategic culture framework is a tool to use to gauge the effectiveness and impact of ethics and compliance practices. It is well-known that effective compliance and ethics programs can reduce dilemmas and increase ethical capacity. If they cannot move the needle in those two directions, they are likely missing the mark when it comes to impact. To make progress on the practices we have considered though the strategic culture framework clearly demonstrates a commitment to creating the internal pathways to a strong, vibrant and healthy listener culture.

Yet, as the White Paper notes, in “its simplest implementation, the strategic culture framework can be used to inform internal discussions on culture and risk. It can also be leveraged to orient the work of independent monitoring committees and create a scorecard of culture and risk for the board to review regularly.”

For a full copy of “Predicting Risk: A Strategic Culture Framework for the C-Suite” click here. For more information on SAI Global, click here.

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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018