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Setting the Right Tone At the Top

Setting the Right Tone At the Top

By Norm Ford

“Sticking with the idea that an individual person’s standard of what’s right or wrong is affected by the persons with whom he or she associates, I can’t stress enough the importance of the tone that is established at the top of any organization. The board, the CEO, business leaders and the CCO all play critical roles in setting the tone at the top and establishing an organization’s values and ethical climate.”  

– Richard Ketchum, Opening remarks at 2016 Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) conference


While the idea of the “Tone at the Top” is nothing new and will resonate particularly with those of you working in the financial industry, I think it’s time we reminded ourselves of the fundamental role those occupying the ‘top’- whether it is an organization, a business or a country, play in establishing behavioural paradigms and what is the appropriate interplay between colleagues in, and outside, the workplace.

I’ve spoken of the need for a company mind-set as essential for effective compliance and believe wholeheartedly that in order for a culture of compliance to exist and operate within an organization, it must originate and be demonstrated by those occupying the most senior positions.

My colleague, John Arendes and I have endeavored in recent posts to shed light on the thorny subject of sexual harassment; the ways it impacts business, why training is necessary and how employers should prepare for new Californian legislation around sexual orientation.  We both share the conviction that regardless of what measures are taken to protect employees, and employers, without significant ‘buy-in’ from the top, their effectiveness will always be limited or, in some instance completely, eradicated.

It was therefore quite interesting to read that Congress is planning to adopt mandatory training for harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Or as House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution.” Adding to this, Rep. Bradley Byrne is now calling for additional reforms, including revising the Code of Official Conduct and change the how currently the system shields the details of settlements.

Without getting too into the details of how Congress currently functions around this complex subject, the point is, here is another example, another endorsement, of the power and purpose of training as a necessary feature in the workplace.  And in this situation, there is the added element that Congress, given its position and cache, will further reinforce the importance that those at the top are role-models and that we all should try to emulate and mirror the steps they are taking to address harassment in the workplace.

Brain science research tells us that for learning to take place, specific criteria need to be put in place, and it is imperative that learning professionals use this data when designing the content and delivery methods for their learning programs.

For example, we know that learners need three things to have an optimal learning experience: relevance, meaning and emotion. This is why it is so important to have authentic and realistic scenarios, situations that closely mirror actual issues and problems, form part of your learning program. If a learner can become emotionally invested in the learning, then the likelihood of retention and application exponentially increase.

Mandatory training or training initiatives that fall under the “check the box” mentality, do not sufficiently address this insidious and multifaceted issue.  For training to be effective and for change, real change, to occur, we must make the learning stick. To accomplish this, we must design our training programs around what we now know about how we learn.

In short, this is an area that we cannot afford to see treated superficially; it must not be reduced to a politically- charged move meant to simply appease or attract voters.

Norm Ford is VP of Operations for Compliance Solutions at Skillsoft.

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