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My top 3 takeaways from Global Ethics Summit 2023

Written by Harper Wells, Chief Compliance Officer

It’s been a bit over a week since I departed from the Global Ethics Summit (GES), but I left so inspired by the ethics and compliance leaders I connected with and the sessions I attended. As I reflect on the compliance trends and insights that were discussed, I’m reminded that our work as compliance professionals is never done and is always evolving.

With that in mind, here are my top 3 takeaways that are a great reminder to all of us moving compliance forward at our organizations:

  1. Data utilization continues to evolve. 

As Peter Drucker famously said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and, based on recent pronouncements and the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs, the same rings true for our compliance and ethics programs. In many of the sessions, leaders across industry verticals doubled down on their team’s mission to access, contextualize, and report on organizational data. As Andrew Neblett, President of Ethisphere, noted in the Promise and Opportunity of the Ethics Economy main stage session, programs need to “start with the end in mind”– identifying what they are trying to achieve, standardizing data, and even implementing lean principles to understand your landscape.

While companies are all over the data maturity curve, most practitioners I spoke with at GES (including an impromptu poll during my session) find themselves in a data-guided place, whereby they are monitoring and analyzing Helpline, operational, and transactional data to mitigate exposure and inform strategic planning around their key risks.

  1. Your culture speaks volumes – positive and negative.

In line with my data takeaway above, organizations are keeping a close eye on culture by using both qualitative and quantitative data to check the temperature of culture health. Most notably discussed at GES: Culture via tone—and action—from leaders and managers creates an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable speaking up. My favorite quote of the conference came from Ula Ubani, Chief Ethics Officer & Head, Customer Appeals at BMO Financial Group. During her session, Putting Ethics & Culture in the Driver’s Seat of Business Strategy, Ula reminded us that when it comes to the mood in the middle, “that’s someone’s top.” It’s critical that we arm our managers and supervisors with data and resources for them to lead by example, know-how and when to escalate concerns, and properly distill down your ethics and compliance message.

Leaders described how they are leveraging culture surveys combined with training and other data to create a scorecard that is shared with senior leaders down to functional area owners. My fellow panelist, Stephen Harris, described how his organization was doing this, which he acknowledges is “notoriously hard to measure.” His team created an ethics and compliance data scorecard to help leaders visualize how they’re performing in modeling key leadership behaviors. Areas identified below the company benchmark don’t just end there…they contain automated links to tools and resources that can help, like manager toolkits along with feedback loops that create a two-way dialogue.

3. ESG provides ethics and compliance teams with a huge opportunity to tell your organization’s story. 

Ethisphere presented aggregate findings from their 2023 World’s Most Ethical (WME) Companies winners. While most ethics and compliance teams at large companies identify as internal partners to their organization’s ESG processes and reporting, the recent findings paint a picture of increased engagement with stakeholders: 90% of respondents actively solicit stakeholder feedback and 80% have a formal stakeholder engagement plan. Organizations are also seeking to externally validate ESG reporting, with more than half of this year’s WME winners using an external third party to audit their programs. This evolution creates opportunities for compliance to have a more profound impact and articulate initiatives and successes by tying good governance practices to environmental and social pillars and targets.

On a personal level, this takeaway is very timely, as Learning Pool just achieved B Corp certification and we’ll soon be issuing our inaugural ESG Impact Report. As a private company, we’re not prioritizing ESG because of external shareholder pressure, but because it’s the right thing to do for our stakeholders in our continuous commitment to delivering extraordinary outcomes.

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