In my last blog post on the findings from our Ethical Culture & Perceptions Assessment dataset, I discussed what the data shows about how frequently employees feel pressure to compromise the law, code of conduct or their own standards to meet business objectives.

Go here to see our recent webcast on corporate culture, including slides and a downloadable infographic:

Today, I want to pivot to a slightly different topic area: managers, the role they play in representing your company, and what that means for compliance programs.

Ethics First Responders

Our surveys have turned up an interesting tidbit about companies’ first lines of defense in terms of ethics and compliance. Despite the significant resources companies have poured into hotlines, portals, and ethics liaison programs, we found that 62% of employees who made a report over the last year did so to their direct manager. By comparison, only 7% of reports went to a compliance helpline, and 8% went through a compliance web portal. Managers are almost always a company’s ethics first responders.

On one level, this is a good sign, and indicates that by and large employees trust their managers on matters of ethics. One of our Eight Pillars of Culture is employee perceptions of their manager, and 87% of employees respond positively on this front.

On the other hand, it means that compliance teams are pouring time and resources into hotlines and portals that won’t be used by most employees. While both reporting channels have a place in a compliance infrastructure, the overwhelming majority of reports will always come via the channel most accessible to employees, their own boss.

Implications for Compliance Programs

So, what should these data points tell us? First of all, compliance programs ought to direct more resources towards ensuring that all managers receive ethics training that is engaging and helps them understand what to do when their reports raise concerns. Check your case management system – how many manager-submitted reports do you see? One danger with employees going to their managers is that the outcome depends on what the managers do with the information they receive. That makes effective manager training critical.

Secondly, that training should emphasize how managers can best support other employees in making reports. Although by far the leading response to the question of “Why are you willing to report?” was that it is the right thing to do (94%), one of the next-most important factors for employees was that they believed they would have the support of their managers (59%). Training managers in how to communicate this support to employees is critical to a company’s ability to encourage reports of misconduct and misbehavior.