It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote a news analysis about the problems with ethics and compliance programs here in the United States.
Experts in that piece lamented the lack of clout being given to many corporate ethics and compliance officers, and the tendency at far too many organizations to require ethics officers to wear too many hats — doubling up on such governance responsibilities as risk management and human resources, thereby not being able to focus properly on any one of them, especially ethics and compliance.
Well, it appears those two disciplines are in need of collar corrections on the global stage as well. According to the recently released NAVEX Global’s 2015 Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific State of Compliance Programmes Benchmark Report, despite tighter government enforcement, boards are not getting regular compliance reports and 40 percent don’t have regular reporting cadence with their boards or are not sure. And the majority say their budgets for ethics and compliance will remain the same or will be less in the coming year.
To come up with its findings, NAVEX Global partnered with an independent research agency to investigate how companies headquartered across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) develop and execute their ethics and compliance programs.
Researchers polled 247 key decision-makers and individuals responsible for ethics and compliance programs. The purpose of the survey was to benchmark “the top priorities and challenges faced by ethics and compliance professionals headquartered in EMEA and APAC,” according to the report.
From the report (edited slightly for English readers):
“It is not surprising that measuring program effectiveness was cited as the biggest program challenge, since this is a complex undertaking. Organizations struggle to define the right combination of key indicators of culture and compliance to demonstrate the program is working.
“The key challenges of time availability and managing regulations speak to the need for programs to be properly resourced. A robust risk-assessment process can help to identify and better manage resource allocation and to prioritize jurisdictional issues. Successful programs regularly review resources against the organization’s risk profile to ensure appropriate management and mitigation actions .
“Survey write-in responses to challenges included concerns about implementing standardized programs across locations and being seen as a “troublemaker” for bringing up issues. The wide variety of responses serve as a reminder that every organization has its own culture and challenges to be factored into the development and implementation of an effective ethics and compliance program .
Key takeaways from the report:
- Take a Risk-Based Approach: Program components and implementation strategies can be complex and will vary significantly by company and by region. The development of these programs should be driven by the organization’s risk profile, which can be identified by conducting a comprehensive ethics, compliance and reputational risk assessment.
- Put Meaningful Program Measurements in Place: Consider a variety of metrics to determine the effectiveness of the program as there is no one metric or indication that will provide complete insights. A combination of useful metrics could include whistleblower-hotline benchmarks, feedback on training sessions, leadership feedback, employee surveys and focus group data, exit interview feedback, and legal actions.
- Train Middle Managers and Supervisors: First- and second-level managers are culture carriers — the strongest link senior management has to employees. These managers need to be trained on communicating organizational expectations to employees — and trained on how to respond when issues arise. Investing in these managers will pay dividends in terms of creating a strong culture of integrity and compliance.
- Engage Leadership and Your Board of Directors: Both best-practice frameworks and regulatory bodies around the world have defined a clear oversight role for the board of directors. Neglecting this duty could mean putting the organization, and board members themselves, at risk. A regular reporting cadence — with high-quality data put into context — will help keep the board and leadership engaged.
- Do More With Less: Make good use of systems and processes that will improve the efficiency and accuracy of their programs. There is still opportunity for further automation in many areas of respondents’ E&C programs.