It isn’t often that a General Counsel (GC) or Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) is enthusiastically applauded for mandating anti-corruption compliance training. Even more rare are accolades for those who promote a second or subsequent training session on the same or similar topic.
Employees just don’t relish spending time on in-person or online classes they feel are too remote from their daily jobs. Supervisors are often equally unenthusiastic, fretting that such activities are time away from their team’s primary goal of making sales, creating a brilliant branding campaign, designing the next great widget, or counting beans.
Then, there is the uneasy thought that maybe management doesn’t quite trust its employees, if it feels the need to draw attention to subjects such as bribery, corruption, gift giving or entertainment. Don’t the bosses know that we were all brought up to be honest, law-abiding citizens, perfectly aware of the difference between right and wrong?
Well, yes. The instinct to do the right thing flourishes throughout the corporate world and in every type of government office.
Despite the growing number of anti-corruption laws around the globe and a greater focus than ever before on their enforcement, the overwhelming majority of people continue to act ethically and lawfully in their business dealings, as in their personal lives.
But it is hard to deny that there are those who do not like to play by the rules, instinctively feeling that they are there to be flouted. The scandal fixation of the media (both traditional and social) awakens in some people the desire to join the conga line of those who thumb their nose at authority, getting a thrill from finding a way to out-smart the enforcers.
Such “activists” don’t really think of themselves as criminals, or even as unethical; it’s more a way to stand out from the crowd, to enhance their social media reputation, or maybe to pocket a little something extra that their company or department won’t miss.
Of course, there are also the truly bad guys. Not terrorists, of course, but certainly a group whose entire business model is designed around how to defraud, cheat or extort their way in life, to the deliberate detriment of others.
So how is a GC or CCO to ensure that his or her company won’t end up being put through the reputational wringer, let alone having its operational and financial wellbeing irreparably damaged by a corruption investigation?
The answer is, as it always has been, to promote and reinforce a culture of consistent ethical behavior, from the Board of Directors and C-Suite down to the mailroom and shop floor.
This does not happen - and in fact cannot be implemented successfully - in a vacuum; it takes real commitment, leadership, creativity, careful messaging, and willingness at every management level to walk the walk. But it also requires repetition.
Every good teacher will tell you that the secret sauce for students to retain information is repetition. Not mind-numbing rote learning (although there are those who still swear by that methodology), but engaging, challenging, varied ways of presenting that information, such that it sticks.
This is as true for grade-schoolers learning basic math or spelling, as it is for corporate or government employees navigating their way through real-world ethical challenges.
This reality means that it is never adequate to adopt a “one-and-done” approach to any compliance training, but particularly not a topic like anti-corruption, in which the potential for error is high and the consequences for failure so damaging.
Under the Guidelines Manual of the United States Sentencing Commission (the Federal Sentencing Guidelines or FSG), consideration for more lenient treatment may be given to a company that has an active program in place to ensure that its employees have been made aware of legal obligations and potential pitfalls.
It is not enough to write a policy and just file it in an employee handbook or embed it in an HR or Legal webpage. The key is to be able to provide evidence that employees have been trained on the topic. And the more quality training each employee receives, the better the light in which the company will be viewed under the FSG.
So the next time that supervisors or their employees let out a collective groan at the prospect of further training on anti-corruption or one of its sub-topics, they should be encouraged to understand that such training may well mitigate penalties for noncompliance.
Maybe it’s not enough to result in enthusiastic applause for GCs or CCOs, but their insistence on serving the best interests of the company and its employees should at least be recognized.
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