2016 Trends #6: Working With HR—Time to Try Again

To help prepare compliance professionals for the year ahead, we’ve talked with industry experts, our colleagues at NAVEX Global, and ethics and compliance professionals from our more than 12,500 client organizations to gather insights on the top issues and trends that will impact compliance programs in 2016. We’ll share each of the trends here over the next few weeks.

It’s been said that no corporate function has the opportunity to contact more employees more often than Human Resources. Recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, performance reviews, promotions, investigations, discipline, reorganizations, terminations and exit interviews—this is the life cycle of employment and HR is there at every major milestone.

In addition, HR is often the primary channel for reporting ethics and compliance concerns. It is a source for advice and employee assistance, a developer and deliverer of training, the keeper of surveys and the author of key policies.

This is why, twenty-four years ago, The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations emphasized the importance of the HR function in creating and maintaining an effective compliance program. The 2004 revisions to the Guidelines went further. By emphasizing the importance of organizational culture, the revised Guidelines gave even greater prominence to the importance of HR.

In spite of the inescapable logic that HR must be a key player in E&C, progress towards cooperation has been uneven at best. Although there are best practice examples, in too many organizations coordination between the HR and E&C function is strained by duplication of efforts and inefficiencies, fear that confidential employee information will not remain confidential and turf battles (perhaps most clearly demonstrated by “who should receive HR reports for investigation” and tensions around the periodic all-employee surveys).

Given the benefits that can result from cooperation, it is well worth the effort of any ethics and compliance officer to look for more ways to work with HR.

Key Steps for Organizations to Take

1. First things first.

Hopefully the first item on your list isn’t something like “bury the hatchet.” But if it is, then this needs to be your first priority. A good place to start is to cooperate on a project where agreement is likely. For example, an update of your code of conduct or working together on a philanthropic or community engagement initiative. And work on the personal relationship by scheduling routine coffee or lunch dates with the head of HR.

2. Build trust.

If there is a lack of trust between E&C and HR—for example, if there are accusations that confidential information is too often leaked—first look at your own behaviors to determine if you are sending signals that reinforce this fear. Ask a trusted colleague to give you input on the matter and work on changing any necessary personal conduct. If necessary, encourage your HR colleagues to do the same.

3. Recruiting and onboarding.

As an ethics and compliance officer, you may be surprised at what is and is not said about E&C during recruiting and on-boarding. But remember, if you’re dissatisfied with the content or delivery of the E&C message, rather than criticize, a more constructive approach will be to volunteer resources to help improve the material and the process—and then to help deliver the message.

4. Get on the same page with communications and training.

Working with your HR colleagues to coordinate a communications and training plan may be the single most important step to improve E&C relations with HR. Work together, and with other stakeholder departments such as Learning & Development, to develop a two to three-year compliance training plan that takes into consideration the risks, roles and responsibilities of various employee groups. Determine accountabilities and, if possible, identify training topics where E&C and HR can jointly present or work as a team to develop content.

5. Track all the channels used by your employees for reporting.

Capturing reports through a variety of intake methods can encourage more reporters to come forward and provide a more complete picture of risks in your organization. Our 2015 Ethics & Compliance Hotline Benchmark Report indicates that just over 50% of reports typically come through a combination of the E&C helpline and web submissions, but an almost equal amount come through other methods including E&C office walk-ins, email, direct mail, fax and manager submissions).

Unfortunately this data does not capture—and most organizations don’t know—the full extent of contacts received by HR. Creation of a unified intake system that not only captures reports through all channels but uses a consistent methodology for categorizing and managing the contacts is the ultimate goal.

6. Work with HR to incorporate E&C standards into performance management processes.

For many companies with mature E&C programs, the final step in full implementation is to identify key performance indicators (KPIs) for E&C and to make them part of the performance management planning and review process so that employees understand that management takes “walking the talk” seriously.

7. Ensure consistent discipline.

The E&C Office usually only has an advisory or tangential role to play in employee discipline. But employee opinion about discipline, especially whether or not it is consistent, is a critical element that shapes organizational culture. For this reason, E&C has a responsibility to work with HR and others to ensure that discipline is consistent and documented.

8. Get over it.

It has been over 25 years now. We have to get over the turf battles and recognize that both HR and E&C are working for organizations where both groups are accountable for dealing with employee concerns—receiving them, responding to them, investigating them, recommending consistent discipline and communicating about them.

It is time to work together as partners rather than adversaries. Regulators investigating wrongdoing will have little sympathy for internal turf battles. Frankly, senior leadership is tired of it, too. Credibility of both departments is diminished when we can’t get along.

There are many other opportunities for working with HR and improving E&C efficiencies, including making the most of exit interviews to mine for E&C weaknesses and problem areas. Determine where opportunities for progress and cooperation exist in your organization, and get busy building bridges.

Want to talk with an expert about your specific challenges for the coming year? Schedule a consultation with our ethics and compliance expertswe'd love to see how we might help support you and your organization.

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