Ethics and Compliance Opportunities

Ethics and compliance professionals are striding forward into a new year of opportunities and risks. It is easy to dwell on the risks, such as those identified in the Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal blog: corporate burnout on compliance; not enough staffing/resources; failure of board/C-suite to promote ethics and compliance; compliance being shut out of big decisions. (DiPietro, 2016). Some would add that uncertainty about the new administration’s approach to regulatory compliance adds to the risks.

Maybe so, says Andrew Leigh, in his Ethical Leadership blog, but compliance is here to stay, probably with a “greater focus in the future on ways to move corporate cultures towards valuing ethical behavior” (Leigh, 2016). In fact, he believes regulators will begin asking both about corporate culture and about whether a company is generating ethical leadership. “The latter is the elephant in the room during many discussions and decisions about compliance.”

No surprise—the challenging opportunity to develop a corporate culture that is closely linked with valuing ethical behavior requires the focused attention of the board and of the executive team—perhaps by engaging them in discussion about how the organization would stand up to regulatory scrutiny about its efforts to build “ethical leadership.”

That’s important because an ethical values-linked culture requires leaders with integrity; those who, in Leigh’s words, demonstrate they care about ethics and “doing what’s right.”  Finding such leaders can involve working with HR and with the board of directors to actively recruit candidates who show that they value an ethical approach; who show that they know how to influence a corporate culture (and have done so); and who show that they are values-driven.

As Leigh acknowledges, leaders are drawn from both outside and inside the organization. For those coming from inside, he says, “training and development plays a crucial role in generating the right people.”

The Ethisphere Institute’s survey of its “world’s most ethical companies” (WMECs) also highlights the importance of ethics-related training for boards and managers. For example, in 2015, 70% of WMECs reported they had formally trained their boards on codes of conduct, and 80% delivered ethics and compliance-related training to their managers. See Ethics and Compliance Programs—More Leading Practices. The challenge is to continue these efforts and to incorporate content and approaches that help develop leaders who know how to lead ethically and who will do so.

So here we have three challenging opportunities for ethics and compliance professionals: engage the board of directors’ and the executive team’s thinking about the need to hire or promote values-driven leaders; partner with HR to implement a related recruitment approach; and revitalize ethics-related leadership training and development. Those are opportunities worth pursuing, don’t you agree?

Ethical Advocate assists companies of all sizes in creating a culture of ethics and accountability by providing ethics and compliance training, confidential and anonymous hotlines, and assistance in meeting regulatory and reporting needs. Contact us for more information.


DiPietro, Ben. “Reader Poll: Wells Fargo Chosen as Scandal of the Year.” Risk & Compliance Journal, December 28, 2016.

Leigh, Andrew. “No Going Back—Compliance is Here to Stay.” Ethical Leadership, November 28, 2016.