Tip Sheet: One For The Money, Two For The Show: The Unquantifiable Value Of Ethics Training


Face to face with a large group of PR professionals, I asked two questions about ethics. The first was this: Are you ethical? Every hand went up. The second: Have you had formal ethics training? About 10 hands out of 100 went up, most of them tentatively. It was this response that really told the tale that very few practitioners receive any formalized training on the ethical decision-making process. In fact, when researching their book Trust Inc. (Ampersand, Inc., 2004), Dr. Carol Orsborn, SVP, Fleishman-Hillard, and co-author Judith Rogala found that less than 10% of PR execs had ever received formal training on the ethical decision-making. The issue is that the nature of our work, at this point in time, leaves us constantly multitasking. The constant demands of clients, co-workers, the media and others leave little time for reflection. As a result, we rush though our days in an attempt to extinguish as many fires as possible. This haste, coupled with the learning curve for new social media trends, impedes our ability to make sound decisions. Many are left asking, "What are the rules?" As a result, recent industry headlines have shown that, even in the best firms, employees are finding that it's not always easy to know what the good, right or even best thing is to do in any given circumstance. Now, think about the fact that many agencies sell "reputation management consulting services," yet they don't take the time to ensure that their own employees are trained in ethics and compliance so as to apply these fundamentals to their own firms. That said, several large agencies such as Ketchum are taking the lead to offer practical training on ethics and compliance systemwide. However, they are the exception, not the rule. In May of 2005, shortly after the Armstrong Williams controversy surfaced, Ketchum took a strong stand in training their entire organization on ethics and compliance. Dr. Orsborn, in conjunction with Ketchum's CLO Robert Burnside, CEO Ray Kotcher, and Michael Lasky, a lawyer with Davis & Gilbert, developed an ethics-training workshop and mandated that all Ketchum employees take it. The workshop incorporated a module on current communications law and compliance, as well as a number of real world case scenarios that sparked discussion and allowed employees to practically apply the lessons learned in each training module. As a result, 95% of employees reported that they now: Understand the ethical decision-making process and how to incorporate it into the workday; Understand that Ketchum supports their making ethical decisions in their work; Understand how to report potential ethical violations; Believe in seeking ethical solutions to make them and their clients more successful in the future; and Know where to find ethics standards and policies. Ketchum didn't stop there. CEO Ray Kotcher has further required that all new hires take the course and that existing employees take a refresher course, online, each year. The company also established a hotline for the anonymous reporting of ethical violations through parent company Omnicom. Based on Ketchum's experience, Burnside suggests firms ask some basic questions of themselves such as: Do you have one point person that has a file of all contracts? When you are working with a satellite media company, do you amend their contracts to insist on disclosure? Are staff members blogging under their real identities? On Web sites your company creates, is the sponsor company visible? Do you have a system in place for confidential reporting of alleged ethical violations? Do your employees understand and experience your company's active ethical commitment? Have your reviewed your company's compliance with the Federal Guidelines? It's also important to note that ethics training pays tangible dividends in terms of client and staff loyalty and agency reputation, not to mention in the event of a legal crisis. For example, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (FSGO) allow Federal judges to impose harsh sentences - including restitution and substantial fines - upon organizations, depending on the offense. However, judges can substantially mitigate these penalties if an organization has an effective compliance and ethics training program in place, and promotes an organizational culture that encourages a commitment to compliance with the law. Still, our industry talks the talk of ethics, but very few walk the walk. CONTACT: Ann Higgins is the president & CEO of Utopia Communications, and a member of the Counselor's Academy. She can be reached at ann@utopiacommunications.biz. Tips For Implementing Organizational Ethics Training CEO Driven: Have the directive for training come from the top of the organization Mandatory Training: Insist that training be mandatory for every employee with no exceptions Consistency: Have a mechanism (in-person or Intranet) for annual updates/refreshers Start Right: Consider starting with an ethics audit. This is an assessment of organizational ethics strengths and weaknesses with an emphasis on identification and correction of vulnerable areas. Ask the Experts: Develop your own ethical think tank using an expanded short-term advisory group consisting of impartial advisors drawn together as needed for ethical decision-making support on specific, pressing issues. Advisors could include CPAs, lawyers, trained university philosophers, industry specialists, government specialists, etc. Ethics Code Development and Compliance Audit: This process engages all employees in the formulation of a shared statement of corporate values, as well as review of policies, to ensure that they are in compliance with latest industry standards. The process, as much as the resulting document, furthers support of an ethical culture that is more than lip-service compliance. The resulting document can be used for reputation-enhancement purposes.

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