Tags: Treatment of Employees
How can you support large numbers of employees in multiple locations in doing the right thing? One approach is to spread a network of ethics ambassadors throughout the business – it is an excellent way to ensure that messages about ethics and conduct are communicated effectively, consistently and meaningfully to staff in multiple territories.
Setting up an ethics ambassador network
- Consider the number of ambassadors you need and how you're going to recruit them
- Provide clear descriptions around the scope of the role
- Training and preparation of ethics ambassadors is key
- Consider how the ambassadors will stay in touch and share good practice.
How can you support large numbers of employees in multiple locations in doing the right thing?
One approach is to spread a network of ethics ambassadors throughout the business – it is an excellent way to ensure that messages about ethics and conduct are communicated effectively, consistently and meaningfully to staff in multiple territories.
IBE research indicates that organisations with a more embedded ethics programme and more engaged senior leadership are more likely to have developed an ethics ambassador network, and we’re getting more requests from subscribers asking for advice about setting one up and training its members.
But what are they? And what should you think about before establishing a network?
Ethics ambassadors are employees who formally promote and embed the company’s values and code of ethics. They help ensure that ethics programmes have both a relevancy and consistency throughout the organisation.
By providing local knowledge, language and case studies EAs help make the ethics programme relevant to the needs of the local operating environment. This encourages buy-in from employees and decreases the likelihood of misconceptions which commonly arise from faulty translation or clumsy choice of wording.
Ethics ambassadors can also act as a local point of contact; so if an employee has a query or an ethical dilemma they can talk to a local person rather than the Speak Up line or a more formal contact with head office. Ambassadors may record and report issues, and occasionally (with proper training) help conduct investigations into unethical behaviour. However, as their name suggests, it is as advocates for the ethics programme that ambassadors are most valuable, offering training, increasing saliency and visibility.
The post of ethics ambassador may be full-time or may be taken on in addition to an employee’s day-to-day job. Ethics ambassadors will normally be positioned throughout the company; across business units, geographical locations, and/or the hierarchy of an organisation and form an informal ‘network’ of diverse employees with similar responsibilities.
Finding appropriate people is crucial
Finding appropriate people is crucial; they need to be both approachable and regarded with integrity so that colleagues will feel comfortable raising concerns to them and feel confident that they will respond appropriately. If too senior, people may not feel comfortable talking to them; if less experienced, they might not have the sufficient presence to gain confidence.
We would suggest that employees with varying functions across the organisation become ethics ambassadors in addition to their normal duties. Ethics is everyone’s responsibility and incorporating responsibility for supporting it in this way helps to reinforce that message.
- Consider how you are going to recruit your ambassadors. Only allowing people to volunteer themselves can be risky; as can only having nominations from department heads. More successfully, offering a mix of recruitment methods where colleagues can volunteer themselves or others works well, inspiring confidence and accessibility.
- Given the role will be an addition to existing responsibilities, establishing how it can be included within objective-setting/appraisals/development plans can be attractive.
- Consider the number of ambassadors you need. You want to cover businesses appropriately and achieve a suitable level of visibility. Do you want hierarchy within the network? More junior ambassadors can approach more senior ones for advice within their business, rather than immediately escalating concerns to the ethics office and it can help the network become truly embedded.
- Line management support is imperative, as ethics ambassadors’ time will be taken from normal contracted hours. EAs should not be doing the work in their ‘spare time’ / at lunch or after work. It can be helpful to promote the role in the similar way you would promote a designated First Aider of Safety Officer.
- Provide clear descriptions around the scope of the role, highlighting what it will not involve. Providing an EA handbook can help to maintain clarity.
- Take care with how you market the role so as to create a positive impression of the ethics function. Avoid descriptions such as ‘the eyes and ears of the business’, ‘advocates’, ‘investigators’. Some organisations set a time limit for the post. The end date does not necessarily mean all EAs are replaced, it simply invites fresh perspectives, allows for review and updates to the role.
- Training and preparation of ethics ambassadors is key to the success of the programme. They must have an adequate and appropriate level of training for the responsibilities that they are given, otherwise their appointment is likely to be seen as mere ‘window-dressing’. This does not mean that they must become experts, but it does mean that they have the basic understanding and skills demanded of the role.
- Consider how the ambassadors will stay in touch and share good practice. Regular webinar sessions will stimulate ideas and develop them in their role. Bringing them together face to face annually will allow them to network and share ideas.
Business ethics is everybody’s job
Business ethics is everybody’s job, not something that is the sole province of the Ethics, Conduct and Compliance functions.
Cross-functional ethics ambassadors help to ensure that ethics does not operate in a silo, separate from the daily business processes of the organisation. Establishing an ethics ambassador network distributed across the organisation, geographically, departmentally and hierarchically, can help ensure ethical values are part of ‘the way business is done around here’.
If you'd like to take a deeper look at setting up an ethics ambassador network, you can find out more from this IBE Good Practice Guide.
This practical Guide explains the role of Ethics Ambassadors in contributing to the success of an ethics programme and helping to promote a consistent ethical business culture. Drawing on the experience of UK and international companies it highlights how the role of an ethics ambassador can help organisations understand what ethics ambassadors are and how they can be recruited and supported effectively. The guide includes a set of practical tools for training and evaluating the efficacy of ethics ambassadors.
10 Oct 2010
formerly Head of Communications