Ethics Hotline Use

“Compliance” is a noun that means being in conformity with applicable rules or standards.  These days, companies routinely employ compliance officers, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the company is in compliance with applicable statutes, regulations, guidance documents, and court decisions.

While the compliance officer can fulfill responsibilities through written programs, policies, and standard operating procedures, how can a company go beyond the printed word to create a company-wide “culture of compliance?”

To create a “culture” of anything is to go above operating documents and to enter the stratosphere of documents like the company “mission statement.”  At the same time, it is to generate a tangible connection between lofty statements and every member of the company workforce.

The number one tool needed to inspire a culture of compliance is the ethics hotline.  The anonymous hotline is a powerful signal to the workforce that ownership and management want to know what could be going wrong and they are willing to protect a whistleblower from even a hint of reprisal.

Instituting the anonymous hotline is an opportunity to conduct an internal campaign for the launch, design on-going messaging, and infuse messaging into training activities and written policies.  The availability of the ethics hotline is the perfect focal point for the company to show its values and to reaffirm those values to its workforce.

It also involves the more challenging step for ownership and management to utilize the ethics hotline data.  This is the step where “compliance” is converted from a noun into the verb form of “to comply.”  When calls are taken seriously, responsive protocols developed and followed, and remediation undertaken, employees can participate in and see the results of their anonymous hotline.

We already know that recrimination against an employee whistleblower is not permitted.  In that sense, one might ask why a company should use an anonymous hotline.  The simple – yet complicated – answer is trust.  Not all employees will believe that their job is protected if they report inappropriate activity.  Some employees need the added feature of anonymity to trigger the reporting of what could amount to inappropriate conduct that requires remediation and possibly even self-reporting to the government.

Ultimately, creating a culture of compliance is about owners and managers doing the clichéd walk of the talk.  With the added dimension of anonymous reporting, the walk can become a longer stride, inspired by workforce participation from even its most reluctant members.