Ethics ambassadors: helping hands across the organisation

26 January 2022


Read the latest network blog by Linn Byberg, IBE's Senior Engagement Officer.

Many companies now have a network of ethics ambassadors (sometimes called ‘champions’, ‘coordinators’ or equivalent) to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the ethics programme on the ground. 

Ethics ambassadors are employees who volunteer to take on additional responsibilities in promoting and embedding the ethics programme in their area of the business on top of their regular roles. They can help in providing a credible local point of contact for employees seeking to ask questions or explore concerns and they bring additional local knowledge to the design and functioning of the programme. 

We talked with a group of ethics practitioners from our largest supporters to discuss their experiences in relation to the use of ethics ambassadors.

Of those supporter companies that did have an established ambassador network, some of the challenges we discussed were:

  • Building the business case. In many organisations, there is a number of employee networks already in place. It can be difficult to convince senior stakeholders that another network is necessary or useful or to evidence the direct commercial benefit of the network once it is in place 
  • Selection. Getting the right people involved and encouraging volunteers from across the business can prove tricky. Ambassadors need to have a good reputation, be approachable, open-minded, good listeners and confident enough to interact with more senior colleagues
  • Training. Ensuring ambassadors are kept well-informed and adequately trained requires a constant effort
  • Support. Getting buy-in from senior leadership and the Board is crucial, but inconsistencies at the middle management level or local level may mean that ambassadors are not always provided with the levels of support they need
  • Communication. Organisations have a myriad of messages and initiatives that need to be communicated to staff. Making sure that the right information is channelled to and through the ambassadors can sometimes prove challenging
  • Oversight. It is important that ambassadors are seen as role models for the practices and behaviours they are championing, but monitoring the performance of ambassadors needs to recognise that the roles are voluntary 
  • Recognition and reward. Deciding how to recognise ambassadors for their efforts without being seen to give them additional financial rewards as an incentive to perform the role is not straightforward
  • Pandemic considerations. Restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and additional pressure on costs has made bringing together the ambassador community difficult for most organisations. Video call fatigue is a growing concern. Remote working has also reduced the number of approaches that ambassadors receive from colleagues and made it harder for the central ethics teams to get direct feedback from ambassadors

Some of the successes highlighted were:

  • Job descriptions. Ambassadors are not there to investigate or resolve ethical issues that are raised with them but to help their colleagues better access the support that is available in the business. Developing a consistent job description and a set of desired characteristics for the role can be a useful way of determining who would be a good ambassador and alleviate concerns as to the extent of the additional ask of volunteers. However, volunteers should understand that the role commonly requires up to an additional 10% of their time on top of their regular duties. Nominating people who have the capacity to commit to this level of responsibility, and ensuring line manager support, is important, as is ensuring that there is a clear expectation from senior management that local teams need to absorb the additional demand on time and resources 
  • Onboarding. When onboarding new ambassadors, providing them with an information pack and access to ways in which they may connect with other ambassadors, including a specific intranet site for the network, are good ways of getting them up to speed quickly
  • Supporting materials. Providing ambassadors with anonymised examples of real-life situations and the lessons learnt help facilitate engaging local dialogue with colleagues. Real stories are particularly powerful and, for example, having a whistleblower share their experience can prompt vital discussions about barriers and fears of speaking up. It is clear that sharing of real experiences can be done without breaching confidentiality 
  • Events. Getting ambassadors involved in regular events and campaigns (such as leading discussion groups on ethics related internal communications) will keep them informed and engaged. The most active ambassadors take responsibility for other activities, including hosting drop-in sessions, quizzes, and writing blogs
  • Raising awareness. It is useful to publicise to the wider employee population who the ambassadors are. This can involve listing ambassadors on the intranet with profiles, putting up posters locally with relevant names and faces, providing ambassadors with bespoke signature boxes for emails and backgrounds for video calls. Ensuring an even representation of ambassadors across the business is more important than absolute numbers
  • Communication and involvement. Holding quarterly calls with ambassadors is an effective way of keeping them informed of new company policies and other relevant information. Pre-pandemic, regular ethics ambassador conferences were a good way of keeping the network engaged and in touch with each other, at a regional or global level. Ensuring that there is enough time in the diary for ethics leaders to have one-to-ones with ambassadors was mentioned as a particular priority during this time of restricted travel. Virtual roundtables have been a useful way of hearing directly from the ambassadors 
  • Competing voices.  A significant challenge, and one that has discouraged many organisations from establishing formal ambassador networks, is the growing number of networks being established in their businesses for other topical concerns, such as wellbeing and mental health. It is harder for ethics initiatives to be heard with everything else that is going on and coordinating ethics messaging with other internal communication programmes helps. Indeed, the more that ethics can be integrated into other internal communications, the better
  • Reward and recognition. An effective way of recognising ambassadors can be by nominating the entire network for an organisation-wide award. Experiments with award schemes to recognise individual ambassadors within the network had been less successful. Providing opportunities for ambassadors to join or present at ethics panels increased their exposure to senior management
  • Performance review. It is hard to fully integrate a voluntary role into the formal performance management of an ambassador. Since most ambassadors take on the role on a voluntary basis, performance management has to be approached in a sensitive manner. Nevertheless, it is important to identify ambassadors who are not acting as role models and gently encourage them to step down from the role. Setting initial term limits for the roles also allows change to be achieved without upset. Tracking participation in calls and training can be a helpful indicator of commitment. Opportunities to capture feedback from the network (including using an external organisation to interview ambassadors about their role and associated challenges) can be an effective way of picking up on potential issues within the organisation. Triangulation of ethics scores in employee surveys can also help identify areas of particular priority
  • Training. If they have the capacity, ambassadors can be used to conduct training, and this was something a few organisations said they were eager to get their ambassadors involved in

Ethics ambassador networks can be an effective tool in promoting ethics messages across the organisation. They won’t change the culture of an organisation overnight, but ambassadors can help drive significant improvement over time if given the right resources and support.  If used well, ambassadors can notice things happening on the ground and report this upwards before it ends up becoming a major problem.

Among the organisations we talked to with an ambassador network already in place, the prevailing sentiment was that this is an ethics programme element they want to continue to evolve, but all will stress that ethics remains everyone’s responsibility. 


Find out more

To find out more about how the IBE can help with Ethics ambassador networks please contact us.

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Linn Byberg
Linn Byberg

Senior Engagement Officer

As the Senior Engagement Officer, Linn acts as a single point of contact for the IBE's existing supporters and potential supporters. She collaborates with the wider team on the planning and delivery of engagement activities, and is also secretary to the IBE’s Networks (BEN, ProfBEN, USG & DPG). 

Linn joined the IBE in August 2018 as Researcher. In this role, she assisted the Research Hub with the writing up of publications, blogs, newsletters as well as other written output specific to the IBE. Her other responsibilities included conducting advisory work on a range of business ethics topics, particularly those related to organisations’ codes of ethics. 

Before joining the IBE, Linn completed her master's degree in Comparative Politics from the University of Bergen. She also holds a master's degree in Politics and Government in the European Union from the London School of Economics & Political Science and a bachelor's degree in International Politics from King's College London. She has several years’ experience working as a freelance researcher and translator.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all – Helen Keller

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