Ask Renee: How can comms pros make sure their companies do business by the rules?

CCOs can play a pivotal role in building ethically motivated employees and business cultures

I was stopped in my tracks by a headline in a global business magazine: Top CEOs place high value on corporate ethics and social responsibility to drive business.

I was surprised that in the latter half of 2017, CEOs and C-suite execs still need to be sold on the importance of business ethics.

Then I remembered Bell Pottinger’s demise for secretly fanning racially divisive sentiment in South Africa. And Wells Fargo’s severely tarnished reputation, CEO turnover, and $142 million class action settlement for opening unauthorized bank accounts.

I recalled how Volkswagen lied to customers and regulators, impairing its business and destroying trust.

I remembered Takata continuing to sell its airbags in spite of known defects that led to several deaths and the largest safety recall in U.S. history.

Business ethics are a cornerstone of strong enterprises, requiring constant communication and reinforcement within every C-suite.

Chief comms officers can be pivotal in building ethically motivated employees and business cultures.

CCOs must create programs to promote business ethics.

There are excellent practices already in use, where HR and comms pros work closely on creating narrative, program execution, and face-to-face interaction with employees.

One practice requires employees to read their company code of ethics and affirm they understand the policies and are committed to following them. Some companies bundle this with annual performance appraisals, so employees and managers can speak directly about ethics and other issues.

Another step includes linking annual salary increases and bonuses with ethics affirmations. No ethics affirmation, no raise.

CCOs can help CEOs and senior management combine these actions into a storytelling platform. All tools should be considered, including CEO town halls, management forums, internal company events, and CEO videos used in face-to-face staff meetings and posted to company intranets.

Create messages and opportunities to celebrate examples of positive ethical behavior.

Finally, CCOs need to address their C-suite colleagues any time they see the company or employees flirting with ethically questionable actions, practices, or policies.

By valuing ethics as a top priority, CCOs and those who advise them can strengthen company culture, build reputation, and assure success. 

Renee Wilson is former chief client officer at MSLGroup and PR Lions jury president, now president of the PR Council.

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