Over this five part series I have been visiting 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 Global and the author of the white paper. In the paper, she introduced a strategic culture framework which compliance professionals and companies can use to not only help them assess their ethical culture but, equally important, 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. In Part V, we conclude with a review of the ins and outs of ethical reasoning and take a veiled look into the future.
We began with a discussion of common biases that might influence employees to make the right ethical decision and how entities might able to manage this problem. Bulgarella noted the most common bias is that employees think they are much more ethical than their co-workers. This can work to give employees license to engage in unethical behavior, rationalizing that everyone else is doing it or even through some type of internal balance sheet analysis figuring the company may owe them something. This can also work to create a type of righteousness that, once again, allows employees to rationalize bad conduct.
Bulgarella says it starts with a re-architecture to get employees to do the right thing. It begins with the insights derived from seeking and providing feedback. This also speaks to the complexity of managing corporate values in a way that activates our moral identity without making us righteous and a complacent. Sometimes even feeling loyalty to the group can impinge ethical decision-making or ethical behavior so care must be taken around this bias as well.
Bulgarella believes that organizations developing loud and clear speak up cultures “experience high ethical efficacy”. They are a fundamental part of an ethical culture and both speaking up and silence communicate information to an organization. Bulgarella believes they are two sides of the same coin and that that speaking up and silence are properly viewed as a part of a process and not discrete acts. Employees will not simply begin to speak up unexpectedly. There must be training and, more importantly, trust by employees that their voices will be heard, and there will be no retaliation. This means senior leadership and middle managers must seek feedback on an ongoing basis to engender that trust and relationship. Bulgarella says if that trust is not present, there will be what she termed as “futility of voice” which she identified as one of the most disempowering factors employees face in determining whether to speak up or look the other way.
I asked Bulgarella on why silence is so powerful and what can be its significance. She said, “silence can speak a thousand words.” If a survey is conducted and nobody participates, that says quite a bit about your corporate culture. If employees are asked to provide feedback and everybody has only positive things to say about the topic or issue, that simply is a disconnect with “human nature, silence a disguised as voice.” This means that instead of being satisfied that 95% of respondents report that the things are great, you are compelled to go deeper and find out what is going on.
We then turned to the future and where the framework, could be going and how corporations can utilize the framework to improve not only their culture and values but their business performance as well. Bulgarella emphasized the framework is a tool help navigate complexity. She has seen organizations use the framework in variety of ways to manage risk and ethical performance. Moreover, the 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 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 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 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 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.”