Organizations often face a challenge motivating employees to take ethics training seriously. As the old adage goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” It’s one thing to be recognized for developing an engaging, interactive training program, but it’s another thing to attract the attention of busy employees and managers that already have a lot on their plates.

Despite employees’ competing responsibilities, ethics training is important and can have an impact on business, the company’s reputation, and daily office morale. A company cannot afford to leave ethical decision making to chance because one hasty or ill-conceived action by an employee can harm an entire organization.

For instance, treating a client to a seemingly innocent meal while competing for his/her business could land the employee, the company and the potential client in hot water. Depending on the specific circumstances, this might reasonably be interpreted by the recipient as a reward for preferential treatment in order to create an obligation to the other party.

Effective ethics training is less skills-based and more focused on setting expectations of behavior in a variety of contexts. Therefore, it’s helpful to use dilemma or scenario-based training of varying complexity that is reinforced regularly so employees can spot issues and make the right choices.

For example, what does harassment in the work place look like? How do you react when a client requests a personal benefit? Is the customer always right? Or do we have established boundaries that can’t be crossed?

Employees usually know the answers to these questions in an abstract setting, but when an important contract or critical customer relationship is on the line, employees can feel pressured. This is why effective ethics training is more a matter of instilling values and promoting positive behaviors rather than solving any particular problem or reciting a dogmatic list of rules. The aim is to help employees make sense of what, at a glance, might seem like a convoluted situation and determine the ethical choice.

AECOM requires all employees to complete ethics training and encourages them to think of it as something that is necessary for business operations, similar to established processes such as completing expense reports. Additionally, the firm’s comprehensive ethics-and-compliance training program requires employees to acknowledge their understanding and commitment to the organization’s purpose and core values annually.

The majority of AECOM’s success in getting employees to take ethics training seriously can be attributed to a handful of factors. It starts with the company’s strong “Tone at the Top” — which is the level of support and communication from senior executives and other leaders within the organization. Another factor is the company’s culture — the support and encouragement employees receive from their peers in treating ethics training as an important business process. One way for managers to harness the power of positive peer pressure is to offer an incentive – perhaps a team lunch – to the first group that completes training.

However, the single-most-important factor in getting employees to recognize the importance of ethics training is a manager who models the right behavior. If a manager consciously promotes ethics training as a priority, then it is more likely to resonate with his or her employees or project staff. What better way to get employees to renew their ethics training than by having their manager complete his or her training first and then saying “I’ve completed my Ethics training, have you?” That manager can then more effectively communicate, both formally and informally, to his or her direct reports on how valuable ethics training really is.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of ethics training because it’s part of the foundation of AECOM’s ethics and compliance program. Indeed, it’s one of the most important ways we can preserve the company’s reputation, support our long-term prosperity and promote our values.

Comment below to share why you think ethics is important as well as what factors create a successful ethics and compliance program!

Monique_HS_89x100Monique Nguyen, director of ethics and compliance training and integration, is based in AECOM’s Arlington, Virginia, office. Monique has spent the last four years working in the company’s ethics and compliance office, most recently, heading the company’s global compliance-training program. She has been with the company for more than seven years and has a background in human resources for U.S. government contracting.

Originally published Sep 21, 2015

Author: Monique Nguyen