Trust Plays Big Role in Corporate Culture

By Charles L. Szews
Customers, suppliers and employees seek to work with companies that sustain a strong reputation built not only on the quality of a company’s products and services but also on the trust that in every interaction, a company will “do the right thing.”

The impetus to do the right thing becomes that much stronger when the company is engaged in the provision of products to warfighters. In the defense industry, doing the right thing protects American lives and has national security implications.  

This reality is at the heart of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Code of Ethics, which it created as a best practices guide for its membership. Creating a company culture to “do the right thing” doesn’t happen by chance but by design, and the code provides a solid first step for any company as it designs its ethics and compliance program.   

But a strong ethical corporate culture doesn’t develop without the active engagement of strong leaders designing the processes that foster the right culture. It takes commitment from company leadership and a willingness to drive that throughout an entire organization. It can’t be just a slogan or “flavor of the week.” It requires executive leadership exhibiting ethical behaviors and actions. It demands resources, repetition and a pledge to use a variety of media to reach the hearts and minds of all employees. But, the payoff is engaged employees doing the right thing for the warfighter, suppliers and each other.

The culture is known as “The Oshkosh Way.” Employees are proactive with frequent communications and in-person training, including code of conduct training tailored to the needs of our team members. For example, training is tailored for specific functions like procurement, sales and finance, and by business and country to address specific types of transactions or risks.  The goal is to reach the hearts and minds of our employees to do the right thing in their language, wherever they are around the world.

If they are exposed to the values enough, they will embrace them and model those values. The message of doing the right thing is seen and heard throughout the company through a variety of communications. We embed messages in our new hire orientation, all employee meetings, each segment’s newsletter, staff meetings and email. As team members embrace the commitment to not simply be compliant, but do what’s right, they act in accordance with the values. Moreover, by watching other team members’ model ethical behavior, it holds everyone to a greater standard.

The advantage to having all team members at all levels of the organization exhibiting ethical behavior is that it eventually becomes the norm. In fact, there are some tangible differences. For instance, team members are requesting more ethics and compliance training and communications.

Policies and procedures are of the utmost importance to remain compliant and follow the law. For this reason, we ensure that policies are reviewed annually, easily accessible and understood. Furthermore, they help with regulatory and situational changes in guiding employees to do the right thing. For example, conflicts-of-interest policy highlights the importance of reporting a situation that may simply have the appearance of a conflict. In doing so, that individual is exhibiting behavior consistent with, and demanded by, the Oshkosh Way.

However, communications, policies and procedures alone will not create an ethical culture. While there is no fixed formula, Oshkosh has been able to distill out a few measures that have helped us strengthen a more ethical culture.

Foremost, in line with NDIA’s Code of Ethics, which designates the CEO as a company’s Chief Ethics Officer, I must and do lead our commitment to ethics through my every word and action. I speak so often about my expectations of everyone doing the right thing that employees now challenge and encourage me to do the right thing when they perceive that we could do something better in any aspect of our business. 

Senior leaders participate in an Executive Speak Out Series, where they share their thoughts on how the Oshkosh Way impacts everything we do. These messages are displayed throughout the organization — on bulletin boards, TV monitors, in the plants and on the front page of intranet and email.

We established a global ethics and compliance advisory committee comprised of team members from around the globe and different parts of the business. Each team member has become an ethics and compliance champion for their function and region, and they also identify risk areas, company-wide. This sometimes leads to new or additional training, and it also can lead to direct investigations to protect our good reputation in areas of risk.

Additionally, we can continually improve by benchmarking and sharing practices with other companies. Oshkosh is happy to share and benchmark its policies and programs with others in the industry and expects business partners to adhere to the same ethical standards.

We must model behaviors consistent with the Oshkosh Way. This is achieved by doing the right thing, treating others with dignity and respect and quickly reporting any behavior or conduct that is not consistent with our values. Ultimately, achieving an ethical culture is an on-going process of continuous improvement, which requires active leadership from the CEO and the engagement of every employee of the company.

Charles Szews is the chief executive officer of Oshkosh Corp.

The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Topics: Defense Contracting, Defense Contracting

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