Measure Your Ethical Culture

What gets measured, gets managed;

what gets measured, gets done.
Both versions of the adage about “measuring” have been around for a long time, attributed to various business gurus. And it’s true–what gets measured does tend to get managed and therefore done. It’s important, therefore, to measure what matters.

A recent edition of National Defense Magazine’s Ethics Corner column focused on the value of ethics surveys to measure the health of corporate ethical culture (Melcher, 2015).

A healthy ethical culture, according to the author, David Melcher, is one where employees feel engaged and one that is conducted ethically and in compliance with all applicable law. He goes on to say “The right culture can only be achieved and sustained if a company has put forth the infrastructure and processes that all effective ethics and compliance programs should have, to include a corporate code of conduct, two-way communication channels to include anonymous reporting, risk assessments, investigations of ethics concerns and meaningful disciplinary action for unethical activities.”

However, just because policies and processes exist does not mean they are being implemented or used effectively. Nor is the existence of even strong policies and processes a measure of a company’s ethical culture. Melcher believes that systematic use of properly structured ethics surveys can provide valuable insight into issues related to the corporate culture.

The use of ethics surveys can address regulatory requirements, such as the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines requirement for “periodic measurement of program effectiveness.”  More importantly, he says, well-structured surveys “should reveal general employee perceptions regarding trust in management, fear of retaliation, how the company rewards employees for ethical behavior and, conversely, disciplines employees for unethical behavior.”

A company that systematically conducts well-designed ethics surveys, compares and measures results year over year (or survey period over survey period), and benchmarks its data against similar organizations will be in a good position to evaluate itself and measure its progress. Further, a company that openly communicates the results, whether good or bad, to its employees and expects its leaders to assess and respond to issues will be on the path to building and sustaining a healthy ethical culture.

Survey results can be measured and what gets measured gets attention; gets managed; gets done.

Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines. Contact us for more information.


Melcher, David. “Understanding the Value of Ethics Surveys,” National Defense Magazine, April 2015.