One size doesn’t fit all

20 July 2022

Tags: Speak Up, Training

Read the latest network blog by Mark Chambers, IBE's Associate Director (Governance).

A few weeks ago, we welcomed a group of our senior ethics practitioners to a face-to-face meeting. Like many post-pandemic gatherings, it was an opportunity to meet some individuals that I had only connected with previously on Zoom and to have a much broader range of conversations over coffee. 

I was struck again by the diversity of businesses represented in the room and the wide range of experiences from our practitioner network. Although the IBE’s supporters are all trying to achieve the same broad outcomes through their ethics programmes, and are often facing similar challenges, the solutions that they develop need to be tailored for their particular business. 

It, therefore, seemed appropriate that we were talking about the challenges of running an ethics programme across different cultures for our first meeting back in the real world.

It is too easy to think of culture in its more obvious dimensions. Businesses with multinational operations are well attuned to some of the very meaningful local differences in the countries in which they operate. Speaking up if you have a concern occurs naturally in some countries but may be seen as acutely disloyal in others. The employer/employee dynamic varies enormously, including through differences in employment rights. Differences in cultural attitudes and societal norms can mean that an approach to something like supply chain due diligence that would be innocuous in one country may cause grave offence in another. 

But there are many other dimensions to cultural differences that even a business operating only in its home market should be consciously taking into account when planning its ethics programme. These include: gender and racial diversity in the workplace; differences between desk-based roles and field workers; the growth of hybrid or home-working; the different experiences of shift workers; and the variety of terms of employment in the workforce (a mix of permanent, temporary and part-time workers).  

Some of the best practices we discussed included: 

  • how to develop benchmarks for speak up data where cultural and societal factors don’t allow a meaningful comparison between cohorts
  • making sure that the range of case studies used to prompt discussion in training is wide enough to reflect the variety of roles and working environments in the business
  • customising training materials to reflect local cultural norms (whilst maintaining the consistency of outcomes)
  • understanding when messaging might be more impactful from very local rather than more senior managers
  • the value of pre-deployment cultural awareness packs for managers making international moves
  • the vital role of ethics ambassadors or champions across the business to help ensure that the messages are properly understood in what may be a very local context
  • leveraging the insights of internal audit and other allied functions operating across the business to a consistent standard
  • an investment in properly understanding the drivers of psychological safety and the basis for building trust
  • ensuring a sophisticated understanding of the elements of retaliation to better protect those speaking up 

To be truly inclusive and to shape consistently high standards of behaviour across an organisation, an ethics programme needs to build on the areas we all have in common but also tailored to take into account and reflect the significant differences that surround us. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming that one approach will work everywhere. 

Sadly, this is an area where one size does not fit all…


Mark Chambers
Mark Chambers

Associate Director - Governance

Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.

After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work. 

For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a non-executive director. He is a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England, and chairs their Regulatory Governance Committee. He is also a non-trustee member of the Audit and Risk Committee of Maggie’s.

Previous roles included the Chair role at Amref Health Africa and Audit Committee Chair at WWF, where he also led the Committee that oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

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