with co-author Preston Clark
Most companies are making progress with compliance – they have codes of conduct, are working to improve their cultures and are hiring staff including compliance, diversity, privacy and ethics officers. These companies should be credited for laying down necessary, ethical infrastructures.
Yet, despite these efforts, terrible things happen in the workplace. Companies rocked by scandals, such as the fraudulent sales practices at Wells Fargo and the Yahoo data breach, found “unethical behavior” and “failures in communication, management, inquiry and internal reporting” respectively, despite both parties having knowledge of the potential for harm. Fraud and conflicts of interest continue to plague organizations and governments. Sexual harassment continues to be a problem, devastating its victims and demoralizing the workplace, according to a recent report by the EEOC. Discrimination, diversity, hiring bias: these are not just buzzwords, but real problems that exist across the globe.
We believe that almost all organizations care about their employees’ well-being, but sometimes the link between attitude and action gets lost in the shuffle. The potential is there, it just needs to be unlocked. Education and technology can help unlock that potential.
Employers now have access to powerful technological tools to help manage their ethics and compliance programs. A 2017 report by KPMG finds technology, like automation and data analytics, to be a “necessary investment” for compliance to conduct risk assessments, monitor and report data points. Fast Company highlights many companies throughout the U.S. that are using artificial intelligence to “spot nuanced biases in workplace language and behavior” to improve human behavior that favors certain groups of people over others. Technology has no boundaries, and it’s easy to rely on it to help solve real workplace issues.
We cannot forget, however, that people are, and must continue to be, the focus of technology. We are not going so far as saying that technology is going to overtake the human race, but we do believe that companies should think deeply about who they are ultimately serving with technology and not just use technology for technology’s sake.
Education has been called the “social continuity of life” and an overall social good. Education also happens in the workplace through skill-building programs, mentorships and, of course, training. We can’t forget, however, that humans are at the center of it. Employees are both the perpetrators and victims of harassment. Employees make decisions. Employees are responsible for driving diversity and inclusion, refusing bribes and reporting violations. We can monitor, track and report all we want. If employees do not have the necessary knowledge to do what’s right, a concept that reaches well beyond the corporate cloister, we place our companies at greater risk of harm.
Not all education is equal. Research shows that merely understanding a code of conduct does little to change unethical or illegal behavior. Words on a page do not translate into action. Instead, focus should be on how and what an employee can learn. For example, knowing that bribery is illegal and to “stop it” is much less valuable than a case study prompting an employee to watch out for red flags in everyday actions, then reinforcing that learning with post-training assessments and additional training. True learning leads to impact, because it develops real-world skills that help stamp out social ills like corruption, cultural tone-deafness and discrimination. In this way, it can be said that workplace education, or training, fulfills a greater social good.
When implemented thoughtfully, workplace education is a way to help organizations, each other and society. And when combined with technology and a focus on our roles as humans, it can scale to reach people regardless of the borders we constrain ourselves with.
National problems need a national solution. Education is necessary, but by no means is it a silver bullet. And while some companies may balk at being responsible for social problems in addition to shareholder value, that attitude is dying fast.
It is estimated that Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. They, unlike any other generation before, support private business but also expect companies to represent something bigger and truer than just corporate profits, according to a 2017 Deloitte survey. Millennials want to work for and consume from ethical and diverse companies. Incorporating these concepts into a company’s everyday business strategy and operations can help them achieve long-term sustainability. Combining technology with education about intractable issues like discrimination and abuses of power can help build a sustainable company, if not society.
It’s about time that private and public organizations come together. That is why EVERFI is bringing together regulators, prevention experts, educators, legal/compliance professionals and scientists to tackle some of the most intractable social issues through digital education. The acquisition of online compliance training leader Workplace Answers makes us “the world’s largest company committed to empowering learners at every stage of their lives, from the classroom to the boardroom.” Make no mistake, we are a for-profit company. But we believe we can do both. And we believe that every other company can too.
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Farzad Barkhordari is President of Corporate Compliance Strategy at Workplace Answers. Farzad is an attorney and anti-bribery subject matter expert with decades of experience creating compliance programs. He founded Click 4 Compliance, an online training company with courses covering topics such as anti-corruption, bribery and business ethics, which was acquired by Workplace Answers in 2015. Before founding Click 4 Compliance, Farzad spent over nine years in the legal department of Sun Microsystems in California, Washington, D.C. and Geneva, Switzerland, where he was Global Lead for all anti-corruption issues and provided legal advice in a variety of other areas.
After leaving Sun, Farzad continued to advise clients on international business operations and the complex compliance issues related to anti-bribery. He also created compliance programs, including training programs tailored to a variety of job levels, responsibilities and cultures. Farzad graduated from the UCLA School of Law and received his B.A. from the University of Michigan. For more on Farzad, visit his LinkedIn profile.