In March and April of 2019, dozens of CEOs, entrepreneurs, medical and legal professionals, investors, college and university personnel, and Hollywood actors dominated the headlines for their participation in the college admissions scandal dubbed “Varsity Blues.” The high-profile professionals, who include Douglas Hodge, Lori Loughlin, Bill McGlashan, Elisabeth Kimmel, and Manuel Henriquez, are being accused of paying bribes of up to $6 million to have their children admitted to elite colleges and universities under false pretenses. Some allegedly paid to brand their students as Division 1 athletes despite their lack of participation in the sports, while are said to have had stand-ins sit for their SAT and ACT exams.
A key figure in the scandal, William Singer, the founder of Edge College & Career Network (also known as “The Key”), is purported to have used his business to facilitate student cheating on standardized tests and to have bribed college athletic coaches such as Gordon Ernst, formerly the women’s tennis coach at Georgetown University and now on leave from the University of Rhode Island, to falsify recruitments to help unqualified students gain admission to top-tier institutions.
The operation sheds light on a pervasive ethical problem in the business world. Employees, managers, and leaders alike may purport to adhere to compliance standards while conducting themselves very differently in other settings. Simply signing a policy is not enough. It’s easy to skim a piece of paper and forget about it; actually, instilling the values and applying them to behaviors in the workplace and beyond is far more challenging.
As we can see from the Varsity Blues scandal, people behave differently in public and private spheres. Many of the participants are successful, talented, and hardworking individuals who carry themselves with apparent dignity in the workplace—all while engaging in dishonest behavior and demonstrating a lack of integrity behind closed doors.
This type of behavior doesn’t just harm the image of the individual or employee who is engaging in it. It can have severe consequences for entire companies and brands. In this instance, the reputations of elite institutions including Stanford University, Yale University, and the University of Southern California are also suffering, despite the fact that the universities themselves were not accused of being active participants in the operation.
For employers, a disconnect between the public views and private behaviors of your employees can mean, at the very least, that your operation isn’t running as smoothly as it should be, and you have some bad eggs in your midst. At worst, it might mean that your brand, company, and reputation could suffer tremendously.
So, you need to ask yourself:
How do your employees behave when no one is looking?
Some examples of questionable ethical standards within an organization include:
- A manager who adheres to a “Do as I say, not as I do” policy
- An employee who badmouths the organization on social media
- A leader who projects an image of transparency but engages in the opposite behavior privately
Instead of simply handing out a compliance policy and having employees sign on the dotted line, employers need to work to create a culture of compliance.
When there is a culture of compliance, there is no disconnect between public and private behavior. Leaders, managers, and employees have the ethical standards ingrained in them and understand the moral concerns, never mind the potentially disastrous legal implications, of conducting themselves improperly in any context. Actions are consistent with words.
At Interactive Services, we help our clients establish this culture of compliance. Rather than simply reviewing and assisting you with creating and molding your policies, we will work to understand your current culture and identify areas and ways to instill ethics and values that are pervasive throughout your organization. We will ask you direct questions about your current climate and what you envision for your culture of compliance before helping you realize it. We’ll examine and work with you to address fundamental areas of ethical standards and values, including:
- Data Privacy
- Gifts & Entertainment
- Sexual Harassment
- Social Media
- Business Ethics
- Competition Law
- Cyber Security
- Respect in the Workplace
Ultimately, good compliance training doesn’t just mean your employees are ticking an “I have read the policy” box. It means that they understand what the correct behaviors and values are and are actively working to adhere to them, not just within the confines of the office, but in any context. They recognize that they are representing the company at all times and are upholding the values and standards of the organization both privately and publicly.
How do your employees behave when no one is looking? If you aren’t sure of the answer, it’s time to take an honest, hard look at the compliance within your organization. Are you and your employees just checking off a box, or are you driving the behaviors that support an ethical culture—a culture of compliance?