Creating a shared language on business integrity

With rapidly changing regulations and laws, business integrity is high on the agenda of many organisations. But strong business integrity must build on more than individual good morals and employer-driven training. It requires a conscious culture - and that starts at the top. Here is how Ramboll approached it with Workz.

Business Integrity is a hot topic these years. As authorities and regulators continuously strengthen regulations, many large organisations are compelled to increase their focus on business integrity. Traditional efforts on anti-corruption and business integrity often treat the subject as “one-way learning”: teaching employees what they can and cannot do, for instance, through training and e-learning, and organisations continue to invest massively in this approach.

But traditional learning is not enough – you also need to foster a culture and build a shared language”, says Hanne Bay, Group Business Integrity and Compliance Director at Ramboll:

The rules are changing fast and becoming more complex. It’s not enough for employees to know the answers to some simple questions such as “OK, or not ok?”. They need to be able to navigate in grey areas and, for instance, know when to reach out for guidance.

Conversation is key

Business integrity covers a range of grey zones, dilemmas, and situations where problematic elements are not always evident. You need people to be able to navigate, identify if they are having doubts, and reach out for help.  

Essentially, every leader must ask themselves the ultimate question: Is my leadership style compliant with the law?

In other words, an organisation where it is normal to have open conversations about integrity, grey areas, and sensitive topics is an organisation that will quickly identify potential problems and act on them in due time.

Yet this is easier said than done, “it can be difficult to have a conversation about potential misconduct, for instance, because it easily becomes a conversation of fear or mistrust when there isn’t a shared way to talk about it,” Hanne Bay continues.

Culture and leadership

This points to culture. Employees must feel comfortable raising concerns or asking questions, and leaders must be able to help them navigate while proactively creating awareness. In other words, they must lead the conversation on business integrity.

To succeed with this, organisations must look beyond traditional training in rules and look towards activities that help build a culture of conversation about business integrity – and assist leaders in leading that conversation.

We helped Ramboll develop a tool for training their leaders by spotting risks and grey areas of corruption and actively taking a lead on business integrity.

These three learnings may be especially useful to other companies:

1. Make it relevant

Leaders are busy people, and you must engage them to get their attention – such as giving them content they can relate to.

In our tool, we presented a realistic case story, seen from the leader’s perspective, where an employee’s actions could be questionable. Facilitated by experienced business integrity managers, this led to conversations about grey areas, red flags, and not least, the potential consequences – impacting both the individuals involved and their leaders, even without the leader’s knowledge about any misconduct. This last fact would sometimes surprise the participants and lead to more engagement because it was relevant, and the answers were not set in stone.

“We have used dilemmas in training before, but it tends to be easy to figure out what the right answer is. What works really well here is the fact that the cases are full of grey zones. It starts a conversation about red flags, how to identify them, and how small problems can evolve if you don’t see them or talk about them,” says Hanne Bay.

This makes leaders more aware and open to engaging because they realise business integrity is a topic that requires their leadership and attention.

2. Make it actionable

Once the relevance was established in the training, the leaders were more ready to engage in what to do as individuals and as a group. Here, our training would offer a more gamified part of the tool, presenting leaders with various options for leadership actions on business integrity.

“Business integrity requires each leader to act. Partly because there are legal requirements for leaders, but also because leaders shape the culture in an organisation. It can however be a challenge to make it operational – and this is where we help them with this training,” says Hanne Bay.

3. Make sure it’s anchored in the business

The last learning has to do with the role that business integrity takes up in the organisation – is it considered critical or nice to have?

This calls for a closer integration between the support functions and the core business. “People working with business integrity must move very close to the business and get a thorough understanding of the reality faced there. It is not enough to create one-way training; you have to link it to the leader’s reality in order to reach them, help them understand their role, and prepare them for leading this important area,” says Hanne Bay.

The topic must be invited in as a central part of what it means to be a leader. In turn, that requires action from top leaders as action at the top sets the pace for culture and largely influences what is considered important.

Hanne Bay concludes,“New regulations require leaders to engage much more in leading business integrity. It is not something that you can outsource. Essentially, every leader must ask themselves the ultimate question: Is my leadership style compliant with the law?