Articles You May Have Missed

Storytelling Is Your Ethics Superpower

As a long-time World’s Most Ethical Companies honoree, Eaton knows better than most companies what it takes to maintain a best-in-class ethics and compliance program. One of the secrets to Eaton’s success? How it uses storytelling to express the company’s commitment to business integrity with enthusiasm and authenticity in a way that engages leadership and employees alike.

An Interview with Joe Rodgers, Senior Vice President, Global Ethics and Compliance, Eaton

You do an awful lot of work at Eaton to engage the company’s leaders on ethics, especially in the form of communications and storytelling. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing there and more importantly, why you’re doing it?

To answer the most important question of why, it’s pretty simple. Because it’s effective.

I don’t think you can overstate the significant power of leaders and managers to influence ethical culture. In some ways, that’s stating the obvious. In fact, Ethisphere has some great material out there that we use on the power of managers. We’ve used it in the past, we continue to use it. But it is really important.

Fortunately, it’s not too hard to engage our leaders. We have leaders at Eaton who are very much invested in ethics and compliance. It’s really core to our company.

I’ll give you an example of one way that we leverage our leaders. We have a interview program called Integrity in Action. And the whole point of this is that we developed it a couple years ago to talk with leaders around the world about how they lead with our values and how they put integrity into action (thus, the name of the show). The questions we ask are basic but very impactful. Such as:

  • Who was it that influenced you as an ethical leader?
  • What do you say to those people and employees who may not be comfortable speaking up?
  • What does tone at the top mean to you? How do you act accordingly?
  • What advice do you give to employees about leading with integrity?

From there, we talk about examples of what it’s like when those principles are put into action, especially around areas that are more gray. We ask if people have dealt with those and what the challenges might have been. We’re trying to get employees to share and reflect and be transparent and authentic. And it has been tremendously useful.

We work hand in glove with our communications team. I could not do my job without them. We take these interviews and we put them on Eaton. com. We have a short version and a long version, because we want to appeal to different preferences of our employees. We provide them to all of our employees and we also put them on our onboarding site, because we think it’s really important, when new employees join Eaton, that some of the first messages they hear are focused on ethics. We get a lot of traction out of this, and I look at it very practically. Where else are you going to hear leaders talking about these kinds of issues? Maybe if you’re on their team, maybe if they’re on a seminar or a panel or something. But I think it’s incumbent upon us as ethics and compliance leaders to really share this information as broadly as possible so that employees can hear it and they can really get a sense of what that tone at the top means for our leaders.

Given that you’re in the content generation business, can you talk about your creative process? You interview a lot of wonderful people at Eaton; what are some of the hallmarks for you that a conversation went really well, build a lot of value, or truly expresses what Eaton is all about?

I know when I walk off the set if it’s a great interview, typically. And they’re all great, by the way. I can’t recall one interview that was bad. But when I don’t even remember that I’m talking on a set, when I’m just engaged in a conversation, I know it’s going very, very well.

I think the best interviews are those where the leaders really open up and are vulnerable and transparent. I think those are the ones when they’re talking about personal stories. It’s one thing for ethics and compliance leaders to talk about ethics and compliance and issues and examples. But when leaders share a story about it, it’s another thing entirely. That is so much more powerful because of the influence that leaders have on our culture and on employees in general.

Storytelling is a superpower. With that in mind, how would you say that you have developed as an ethics storyteller yourself? And what advice would you give to somebody who wants to use storytelling as a method for employee engagement, especially when it comes to advancing compliance and ethical culture within their organization?

Well, first of all, I love characterizing it as a superpower because that is absolutely fitting, in my view. We know what the forgetfulness curve says about how quickly individuals forget information within minutes, certainly within hours. But I’ve seen data that suggests that people are 20 times more likely to remember a story versus a fact. I don’t care if it’s five times or 20 times, that’s enough for me to say that we really have to leverage that, especially in ethics and compliance, where we are so focused on changing hearts and minds. We like to use that phrase, but it’s true; that’s what we do. And when you look at behavior and attitudes, it is the story that has the ability to change that more than any other way that we communicate. You know it. It seems almost intrinsic. It’s visceral.

We use stories in so many different ways. For example, we have what we call the Integrity Report, which we do every year. It’s really a labor of love for the ethics and compliance team. But going forward, we’re changing the name of it to be called Reflections on Ethics, for a little bit of a softer feel, since the report concept felt a little heavy. But this is something that we’ve thought about a lot, and it’s a yearbook of the prior year where we showcase those in the company who have really gone above and beyond for ethics and compliance. We could probably name thousands of people, honestly. But for this year, we are showcasing 10 leaders, managers, and employees. We talk about data. We talk about lessons learned.

But one of the key parts of that is actually telling the stories of employees who are our champions. They are the ones who are multiplying the message. That is so important to what we do. Some of them are seemingly small, but when you multiply that over a number of years, given the size of our company, they become very impactful. We have a leader who has instituted a process where goes around the factory floor and asks employees about ethics. “Hey, do you know how to contact the helpline? What does an ethical issue look like to you and how would you resolve it?” He’s basically taken the Gemba process, which is sort of a manufacturing term of art that is often associated with safety and quality, and applied it to ethics. Now that is creativity.

We had an employee—a plant manager—who, during ethics week, asked the employees’ children to draw pictures of what ethics means to them. They created this beautiful collage of very simple messages from children: act with integrity, honesty, treat others with respect. All the stuff that we talk about every day in ethics and compliance and in the world generally.

And one other example I like to cite— because I always look at these and am amazed by how much is going on out there—is about our refreshed code of ethics, which has this beautiful wheel that symbolizes our ten ethics principles. Now, we have a plant in Mexico that, on their own, took this wheel and they blew it up on the wall so that employees and others could see it when you walk into the building. You enter and see an ethics station with our 10 principles and other things. It’s beautiful.

But all of this goes back to what we just talked about. If we’re not going to share those things, who’s going to? And some of this is just crowdsourcing. We want others to know about the wonderful work that’s taking place in our factories, in our facilities, and in our plants so that hopefully, others will replicate it. We want our employees to walk away, after having read the Integrity Report or Reflections on Ethics, inspired and energized. We want them to feel even more engaged in the process. We are really excited about it, ourselves.

In terms of what advice to offer, I’m still learning myself. I’ve got a great ethics and compliance team who are themselves great storytellers. We are always working on our storytelling because it’s so important. But to me, what’s really important is to talk about real cases and real lessons learned. We don’t talk too much about hypotheticals and things that might never happen. We want to share real stories with employees.

When we do that, what I found is we gain rapport, we gain connectivity, and most importantly, we gain employees’ trust. We see that when we go back to the data on our storytelling, and that’s why we do this. We want employees to be inspired and to feel like they’re part of the process.

How does Eaton’s culture empower its storytelling? And how does your storytelling, in turn, empower the culture?

I think it starts from our philosophy that we grow and get better by being transparent. And we have a high premium on sharing lessons learned and we’re not perfect. And when we’re not perfect, we want to talk about it. And why do I point that out? We have a “lessons learned” process here at Eaton, and it’s within ethics and compliance and certainly other functions. But what I would probably call that more accurately, it’s a storytelling process. And when we have an issue that comes up—for example, in a business that we want to share more broadly—we have a one-pager and we tell that story in very simple, straightforward terms. What happened? What did we find? And what are the learnings from that? And we cascade that to employees and businesses, depending on the particular function, and we keep it going throughout the year.

So, ethics really does become part of the drinking water, another term we hear a lot. But that is so important because ethics is out there. We’re talking about ethics, but it goes back to that more fundamental idea that when we do that, we’re continuing to gain the trust of our employees, because they know that we’re being vulnerable. We’re talking about issues that happen.

Our team gets invited to a ton of business meetings, and we always think of it as, are we earning our seat at the table? If we’re going to be involved in senior leadership team meetings and other business meetings, we have to provide meaningful content. If we go in there with a bunch of data and metrics, that’s not terribly impactful. We talk a lot about data and metrics already. We talk about regulations and rules. That’s all part of it. But we need to be very practical with our employees. What I have found is that employees do not like to be talked at. That is old school. And so we try not to talk at employees. We want to engage them in the discussion. Some of the best meetings I’ve had are ones where I haven’t said a word for 15 minutes. I’ve told a story or the team’s told a story and suddenly the employees, they’re thinking about it, and they’re talking about it, and they’re coming up with solutions. That’s when I know that this is resonating.

To learn more about Eaton’s ethics and compliance program, including episodes of its Integrity in Action interview series, click here.

Joe Rodgers is Senior Vice President, Global Ethics and Compliance at Eaton, a multinational intelligent power management company that manufactures a wide range of products in the electrical, aerospace, vehicle, and e-mobility sectors, serving clients in more than 160 countries around the world. In his role, Joe is responsible for leading Eaton’s ethics and compliance programs and strategies.

Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter Ethisphere Insights for the latest articles, episodes, and updates.


Free Magazine Access!

Fill out the form below, and get access to our Magazine Library

Free Magazine Access!

Fill out the form below, and get access to our Magazine Library