Corporate Corruption: Identifying Employee Weak Spots


Where Employees Struggle the Most with Corruption

Corporate corruption consequences don’t come much bigger than the $1 billion settlement that Ericsson reached following an ongoing investigation. Ericsson was accused by the Justice Department of violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and engaging in bribery.

Most corruption cases obviously don’t approach the scope of the Ericsson settlement, but smaller organizations should nonetheless take heed. Companies may not blatantly engage in corruption, but they and their employees must know corruption and bribery law basics, recognize when business decisions feel amiss, and identify actions that potentially cross the line into unethical or illegal territory.

Preventing corporate corruption isn’t solely the responsibility of the C-suite—rank-and-file employees must also do their part. And because they’re on the front lines, average workers are often the first line of defense. Yet corruption is an area about which employees may understand little; True Office Learning data confirms this knowledge gap. Effective anti-corruption training is an important strategy in bridging that gap.

Anti-Corruption Weak Spots

True Office Learning has administered our anti-corruption training module to millions of our clients’ employees over the years. In that time—and thanks to the data of those users’ interactions with the course—we’ve learned much about what people know about corruption and what they aren’t so knowledgeable about.

For our overall course, 82 percent of employee decisions were consistent with laws and/or company policy across industries. Among all our modules, an 82 is a relatively low score; however, it is not unusual in comparison to other complex business topics that employees struggle to understand, such as money laundering and intellectual property. The number reveals much room for improvement; if about one in five employees is unsure how to respond to a potential corruption situation, that’s more risk than you may feel comfortable with.

Our data also breaks down subcategories of anti-corruption principles and scenarios, showing specific strengths and weaknesses. Among these findings:

  • Scenarios about third parties score poorly at 71 percent of employee decisions consistent with laws and/or policy, suggesting that employees’ decisions get muddled as relationships outside the organization become more complex.
  • Three additional categories—knowing the law (77 percent), payments (80), and expenses (84)—also fare relatively poorly with employees. These results cement the idea that there are corruption best practices that workers don’t know or innocently believe don’t apply to their roles.
  • The category on questions and concerns scores the best at 92 percent of employee decisions consistent with policy, suggesting that when employees generally know what should make them suspicious, they aren’t afraid to take at least limited action.

Why Anti-Corruption Efforts Matter

Corruption in the business world isn’t as obvious as many employees might think. The idea of bribery, to many people, is someone offering $500 for a favor or demanding something in return for their cooperation. Even in this time when quid pro quo has burst into the national vernacular, corruption and bribery are usually far more subtle—so much so that employees don’t realize it has occurred until the damage is done.

And make no mistake: The damage, both legal and financial, can be severe, from government sanctions to lawsuits to the threat of criminal prosecution. Reputational damage may be even a bigger threat—having the word corrupt associated with your organization doesn’t build confidence with shareholders, employees, or customers.

The C-suite must also remember that executives often bear the personal brunt for the corruption oversights of their employees. In other words, if it happens on your watch, you may be held responsible—and excuses such as “I didn’t know it was happening” or “I didn’t even realize that was considered corruption” are rarely accepted.

Make a Difference

No organization declares it’s just going to try to not be corrupt; more than likely, a commitment to ethical business practices is built into a company’s mission statement. To truly live up to that commitment, organizations must emphasize and prioritize teaching anti-corruption concepts to their employees.

Quality training embraces a range of best practices and cutting-edge philosophies because:

  • It’s adaptive. Given its complexity and nuances, employees’ paths through an anti-corruption course may vary based on their learning styles, comprehension of the topic, and experience with the subject matter. Adaptive training recognizes how an individual user is progressing through a course and automatically adjusts, in real time, so that he or she learns what needs to be learned—no matter the path taken to reach that knowledge.
  • It’s predictive. Effective training doesn’t just teach employees how to avoid corruption—it also teaches organizations and their compliance personnel to recognize where problems might arise. Thanks to the rich data the best platforms deliver, advanced analytics not only identify which employees and departments are currently struggling with corruption concepts, but also predict future struggles.
  • It’s familiar and relevant. Many employees don’t know how corruption best practices apply to them until it’s too late—and some training courses don’t help by throwing paragraphs upon paragraphs of rules and admonitions at users without ever teaching them what they should know. The best platforms place an emphasis on learning, engaging average employees with hypothetical, realistic situations they might face on the job rather than giving them rote information. In this way, the training is urgently applicable and, subsequently, delivers a long-lasting impact.

The training data we presented earlier shouldn’t scare you; what employees learn as they emerge from great anti-corruption training will be greater than what they understood coming in. The results help safeguard the organization—and with the new decade beginning, that additional protection can make all the difference.

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