Over a five-part series I will visit with Caterina Bulgarella on the recently released white paper by SAI Global, entitled “Predicting Risk: A Strategic Culture Framework for the C-Suite” (the “White Paper”). Bulgarella is a cultural architect and ethics collaborator with SAI and the author of the white paper. 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. Today we introduce the strategic culture framework.

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 cultural 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.

Tomorrow, what does senior management and a Boards of Directors and C-Suite need to know about ethical risk?

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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