Ethics and staff communications

03 November 2022

Tags: Speak Up, Communication & Engagement, Code of Ethics

Read the latest network blog by Rachael Saunders, IBE's Deputy Director.

The eternal conundrum – how do we make sure that everyone, in every part of the organisation, has the information and encouragement they need to make the right decisions, without overwhelming them so they disengage?

We had two great speakers at a recent Business Ethics Network (BEN) meeting, one focused on how to engage an organisation with long-standing Speak Up processes, and how to make the most of a relationship with comms colleagues. The other was about using insights from behavioural science to engage colleagues with a new code of ethics.

Our first speaker knew that the main three factors for people not speaking up were: ignorance of the process, fear of retaliation, and belief that nothing will change. They addressed these barriers with an informally worded myth-busting text which was published on drinks cartons, to help colleagues understand how Speak Up works, and why, even if they don’t get feedback, their action is vital. This method of communication was counter cultural for the organisation and got people’s attention.

The second tool was an editable infographic poster that showed data specific to a time period and location; be it national, local level, or even a specific department/work site, to show that people were using the Speak Up process, and what happened next.

Other examples shared by the group included using short videos, or simple graphics, to engage different groups.

Our speaker also shared three rules for making the most of their communications department:

  1. Tell them why you’re different – the ethics function is vital to the success of the business; this isn’t an average request for profile.
  2. Tell them what you want to achieve, with clarity and in detail.
  3. Listen to them and make the most of their expertise to help reach your objectives.

Our second speaker set out how behavioural science enables us to think about how to turn knowledge into action. Too often ethics functions try to raise awareness and knowledge, anticipating this will change behaviours. It does not always work. Motivation, and how easy it is to choose the right path, are also vital.

Using the Com-B model, they explained how behaviour occurred as a reaction to three things: capability, motivation, and opportunity. The ethics functions often focused on giving employees information and improving their capability to act. However, employees already knew a lot of needed information. What was missing was the motivation and opportunity, ethics functions should have focused on influencing the less conscious and automatic responses, and physical and social opportunities such as social norms, environment, cues within the environment and habits formed.

The organisation went through dramatic change earlier in the year, with a demerger. This allowed them to re-evaluate their values and design a new code for the organisation. The code needed to: reflect the new company’s values, goals and ambition, be owned by their people and be clear, engaging and accessible.

This took the form of a set of commitments for both the company and the employees.

The code became an interactive experience, online using immersive imagery and making it easy for the individual to find relevant information. Learning from movement building examples, at the end they would be asked to sign and pledge to the code and their name would then be included on a virtual wall which displayed all others who had pledged. The launch event involved the CEO going through this process. The messenger effect of these was enormous, aided by the seniority of those taking part. Seeing the other names created a strong emotional response and created a global moment within the company.

They sent a workplace prompt to encourage people to complete the training faster. Different forms of words were piloted. Four different types of prompts were sent: action planning, reciprocity, future punishment and social norm. Of these, social norms and reciprocity garnered higher response rates.

The message is - if you want to encourage behavioural change the four factors to include are to make it: easy, attractive, social, and timely.

Two very different examples, some very powerful lessons learnt, and much to build on for all of us who attended.


Rachael Saunders
Rachael Saunders

Deputy Director

Rachael is Deputy Director of the Institute and is responsible for our research programme, and our advisory and training services. She is most interested in how research can generate insights that inspire action. 

Rachael has collaborated with senior leaders across business, charities, communities, local and central government. After gaining her first degree in Politics and History from the University of Durham, and a Masters in Gender and Social Policy from the London School of Economics, Rachael worked in Westminster, then for Carers UK, for UNISON, the public sector trade union, and for the TUC, on skills policy. She was at Business in the Community for over ten years, as an expert in workplace diversity and then in education business partnerships. As a Director at BITC, she worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions, the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and business leaders from Aviva, Barclays, Nationwide, UBS, McKinsey and many more.  Her most recent role was on the SLT of Speakers for Schools as it scaled its delivery of opportunities for young people. 

She has held a number of trustee roles including on the board of the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, the Bromley by Bow Centre and East End Homes. She is currently chair of a charity called Sister System.  She was an elected local councillor for ten years and served as leader of the Labour Group on Tower Hamlets Council. In 2019 Rachael gained an MSc from Birkbeck, University of London, in Business Ethics and Corporate Governance, with a dissertation focussed on how boards communicate their community engagement. 

Read lessmore