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Ethics based compliance training


There’s no getting away from rules. There will always be legal, regulatory, statutory or mandatory requirements that businesses must obey. But increasingly, companies are recognising the narrow approach limitations that often come with rules-based compliance. Instead, corporate leaders are acknowledging the benefits of instilling principles in their workforce through ethics-based compliance training.

A global shift from rules to ethics-based compliance training

The importance and power of ethics-based compliance training is becoming increasingly recognised and appreciated. Global Ethics Day, on 21 October, provides organisations with the opportunity to hold events and celebrate achievements – the successful implementation of ethical training and the benefits that have been borne from the adoption of such principles.

Global Ethics Day is in its seventh year; and through lectures, film screenings, debates, panel discussions, environmental protection activities, and many other programmes, increased ethical efforts in business, including through ethics-based compliance training, are being celebrated by organisations of all sizes throughout the world as a wholly necessary and immensely beneficial avenue of modern accordance.

Ethics-based compliance training: more powerful than rules?

Ethics are, arguably, more powerful than rules alone because they can help people do the right thing when faced with a situation outside the norm. Given this, they are particularly valuable to those organisations facing constant regulatory upheaval, shifting market conditions or evolving technologies. And the organisations that can train their people more effectively in ethics, are those more likely to thrive as the world around them changes.

The evidence is hard to ignore. The Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) has researched the outcomes of large companies investing in ethics programmes. On average, these organisations experienced half the compliance violations of those without an ethical programme in place. In fact, many other key indicators also improved, including pressure to compromise ethics standards, observation of misconduct, reporting of violations, and retaliation for reporting.

Unlike with rules, there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer with ethics. They are ambiguous and nuanced, difficult to measure and complex to define; they are linked to our values and beliefs and cannot be learned like a rule book. Therefore, ethics-based compliance training needs to be delivered in an inclusive and open-minded manner – where an individual’s engagement and understanding is just as important as the ethical framework you want them to adopt.

Essentials for moving to ethics-based compliance training

AstraZeneca, the global biopharmaceutical business, successfully implemented eight ethical compliance essentials when they collaborated with Sponge to redesign their Code of Ethics training programme. By moving away from ‘tick box’ training based on rules and conduct, AstraZeneca is embedding an ethical culture into its DNA. 

Sponge’s eight essentials for ethics-based compliance training

So how do you embed ethics into your corporate compliance culture? We identified the following points that can be included in a learning programme to enable your employees to understand and apply ethics in a meaningful and effective way. You can help us continuously improve in delivering meaningful insights into ethics training, by having your say.

1. Relevance

People must be able to understand how an ethical principle relates to their day to day work. It must have a recognisable context and the ethical concept should have relevance to their job. Imagery and visuals that are bespoke to your brand have a much better chance of conveying this than stock photography.

2. Authenticity

Can I see this happening in my organisation? This is the question at the back of people’s minds when they are learning about ethics. If it doesn’t ring true, people will find it hard to embrace the concept, and even harder to apply it successfully. Basing learning content on real-life stories from your business will help to ensure authenticity.

3. Meaning

You will need to consider not just the meaning of an ethical principle within the organisation, but also whether it speaks to employees personally. Firstly, do they understand what the training is about, and secondly can they see the benefit for them as individuals?

4. Emotion

How do I feel about this? It’s not a question we usually associate with compliance, however, learning about ethical values and principles shouldn’t be disconnected from emotions. How people feel about a topic is an important consideration and a tool you can leverage to help them learn how to make ethical decisions. Using videos to create empathy and tell a story will build this emotional connection.

5. Positivity

Telling people what not to do has its place, but it is much more powerful to affirm positive behaviours by showing people the right way to act. This positivity reinforces the ethical message. Choose scenarios that showcase the positive behaviours you want to see.

6. Experiential

How would I act? An effective ethics programme should prompt the audience to ask this question. Without a right or wrong answer, it’s vital that people get a chance to explore ethical decision making. Allowing space within the learning programme for practice is important, as is the opportunity for further discussion. By including some form of experiential learning, you’ll empower people to think for themselves.

7. Diversity

Ethics programmes should be inclusive by design. By showing a broad range of people, environments and scenarios within the learning programme, you’re teaching that ethics is for everyone, and that your business needs diversity for success. Think carefully about your portrayal of characters and scenarios within the learning.

8. Continuous

Ethics aren’t set in stone for all of time, they can and do change, so training needs to be updated as circumstances change. In addition, one-off training programmes are unlikely to work in isolation. Effective ethics training must be part of an ongoing campaign of learning that generates long term engagement over time.

Start a conversation with us to find out more about how Sponge can support your organisation’s shift to ethics-based compliance training.