How to Create a Culture of Compliance

We often associate corporate compliance with incentives that drive behavior. This could be due to the Wells Fargo scandal still fresh in our minds. The scandal included employees adding unauthorized accounts to fill quotas. 

There is more to supporting corporate compliance than incentivizing employees to follow the rules. “You need ownership to create a culture of compliance,” says Christopher Wright, senior vice president of compliance at LafargeHolcim. “Employees have to see that it’s their culture, not someone else's.”

Compliance has to be more than a set of rules employees are obligated to follow. For compliance to really be effective across the organization, employees have to take pride and ownership in compliance initiatives. Here’s how you can cultivate a culture of compliance at your organization.

Encourage Discussion of Compliance Dilemmas

Ethics training can be a good tool for understanding compliance in the workplace. Often, this falls into the category of another item employees have to check off their list. Facilitating discussions is more effective because they provide a deeper understanding of how to navigate compliance dilemmas, says Andrew Hayward, chief ethics and compliance officer at Subsea 7 and a co-author of “The Business Guide to Effective Compliance and Ethics.”

“Hosting discussions will actually engage more people,” he says. Hayward recommends first posing a compliance dilemma employees may encounter at work, then posing an analogous personal dilemma employees have likely experienced. This can help people think through the work problem in terms of their own values. 

“The way you deal with a gray topic is by using your personal values,” Hayward says. This approach also drives a sense of ownership in company culture.

Set Clear Accountabilities and Practice Routines

Accountability is critical to compliance culture. There are two ways to think about accountability, Wright says. First, individual employees must be held accountable for their actions. “You've got to give people the authority to make decisions and then hold them accountable for them,” Wright says. But, there also has to be clarity around who individual employees report to should the need arise. HR can help facilitate an accountability structure.

Once accountability is established, the bulk of creating a culture of compliance falls on routine. “A culture is built on values but demonstrated in behaviors,” Wright says. “It's things that people do that actually express culture. You build behaviors through repetition.” Creating habits of ethical behaviors and thoughtful decisions will ultimately lead to a compliance culture.

Use Surveys to Measure — and Shift — the Culture

Part of creating a culture is measuring progress. A dedicated ethics survey can help you pinpoint exactly how employees perceive workplace compliance and gauge how they might react in certain scenarios. Organizations like Ethisphere could provide a good starting point, Hayward says. 

Survey results can also, beyond revealing the state of compliance in your organization’s culture, facilitate further employee discussions, Hayward says. “The way you ask questions can get people thinking about what integrity and compliance means to them personally, and how important it is to the company,” he says. 

A continued cycle of discussions and surveys will demonstrate that your organization is serious about building an ethical, compliant culture.