Corporate Ethics Education Yields Rewards

By Patti Ellis
On the surface, one might think that investing in key business activities such as accelerating technology development or strengthening workforce talent may represent higher priorities and offer greater returns than investing in ethics.

Then again, these investments are hardly mutually exclusive priorities. The risks of not investing in an ethical culture become far greater when considering the possible negative outcomes for customers, shareholders and for other stakeholders should an organization fail to operate ethically.

A company culture that embraces a core set of values is essential to being successful in business today. Contemporary cultures need to be adaptive, innovative, diverse and inclusive. They are increasingly multi-generational. Above all, they need to continue to be ethical.

Particularly in challenging economic periods, it is essential that organizations large and small involved in government contracting commit to sustaining, or even accelerating, their efforts in ethics and compliance programs.

Each aspect of a company’s self governance process requires real investment of time and resources. No one need be reminded that in these cost-conscious times, such decisions can come under many different pressures as organizations watch their bottom lines.

Experience has shown that employee education represents an affordable and value-added approach to investing in an ethical culture. Each year, Raytheon Co. invests in ethics education for all employees with the primary goal of promoting an ethically aware culture where our people are encouraged to raise questions and voice concerns without fear of retaliation. Ethics education reinforces the company’s code of conduct and company values.

A worthy ethics education program must include engagement at multiple levels in its evolution, not only inside the company but also with external elements. Raytheon’s ethics education program evolved in this way to better align our investments to keep pace with the aerospace and defense industries and customers.

All are better served to the extent engagement also fosters common development of best practices in ethics — something we’ve done with the National Defense Industrial Association and other organizations. In the long term, sharing what works best to effectively educate employees about ethics supports more effective self-governance throughout the defense industry and government alike, and frankly, it is something we owe to our men and women in uniform.

To the point, NDIA’s Code of Ethics expressly urges members to “contribute to the common good of our industry and promote industry ethics whenever and wherever possible by sharing best practices in ethics and business conduct among NDIA members.” Raytheon supports this as one way to broaden our collective ethics advocacy.

In the spirit of sharing, a key theme of Raytheon’s education program is to “Take an Ethics Check.” In hour-long classroom sessions, employees view and discuss video vignettes based on actual ethics cases. Our “Ethics Checkpoint” program features easily remembered icons that reinforce a desired behavior that is widely communicated — pause, take an “ethics check,” then proceed with the proper course of action.

An “ethics check” approach is easily adaptable for any organization’s education program. The important concept is checking before acting, whether it’s contacting the ethics function through its helpline or by other means, talking with a supervisor or manager, or connecting with another relevant subject matter expert. The ability for employees to speak up and ask questions without fear of reprisal is integral to their belief that the company will support them by doing the right thing.

A study by the Academy of Management published in 2012 found that employees are five times more likely to do the right thing when they have some time to think about the matter than they are when they have to make a snap decision. Moreover, we know from experience that taking an “ethics check” can make a real difference.

Surveying employees and obtaining feedback in other ways is critical to determine the effectiveness of your education program and if employees learned more about an organization’s ethics standards.

To maintain a well-educated ethical workforce and high expectations for continuing ethics education, elicited feedback is effective in keeping ethics curriculum current. We continuously refresh our education programs based on what we hear from employees and on our evolving business environment with an aim to continually improve and take the program to the next level.

In addition to teaching the broader fundamentals of ethical conduct, an education program should also focus on job-specific ethics issues. For example, Raytheon maintains a library of modules covering about 40 different topics that range from government contracting rules to the appropriate use of social media. Each module takes about 45 minutes to complete, with some also including video features.

And no ethics program is complete without educating a company’s workforce on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and the related topics of improper gifts and illegal gratuities. Knowing the basic ground rules here is critically important. We produce a program using short video segments called “FCPA Aware,” which helps build internal knowledge and awareness about the company’s anti-corruption policies. The program underscores key learning points for full compliance with the legal requirements of the act. 

The use of videos designed to engage employees through an entertaining format is conducive to supplement required learning and encourage interactive dialogue in the workplace.

Raytheon produces a popular video mini-series each quarter, called “EthicSpace” that, like the Checkpoint program and FCPA Aware, is based on actual case experiences meant to prompt conversation. EthicSpace videos are emailed to all employees as a series of three or four episodes; the idea is to keep employees on the edge of their seats, as scenarios depicted in one episode don’t usually resolve until the following week’s installment. The program has become a “message multiplier,” with each new series welcomed, viewed and talked about by thousands of employees.

With a creative, current and evolving ethics education program, the real return on investment comes from continually reinforcing a corporate culture of integrity. The annual costs associated with producing, distributing and measuring the impact of engaging employee education programs do not compare to the potential lost business, adverse impact on customer confidence and damage to company reputation that could result from unethical conduct or business practices.

A well-executed employee ethics education program is a reflection of an organization that not only upholds principles of ethics, governance and compliance, but also strengthens its culture and values for even greater return on investment.

Topics: Defense Contracting, Defense Contracting, Defense Department

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