AB Thinks  →  19th July 2023

The importance of a strong ethical culture

Ethics can be a tricky topic to communicate. But with companies needing to meet ever more regulatory and legal obligations, and facing more scrutiny from internal and external stakeholders, the need for an ethical culture has never been higher.

Our latest guest on the Internal Comms Podcast is an expert in the field. Jonathan Satinsky is Group Head of Ethics & Compliance at Johnson Matthey, a global business with 12,500 employees working across more than 30 countries.

In conversation with our host, Katie Macaulay, Jonathan offers his expert insight into building an ethical culture in an organisation, and how he ensures employees feel comfortable speaking up.

Here’s what we learned:

What is ethics and compliance in the workplace?
Jonathan sees his role as ‘tackling two sides of the house’. The ‘ethics’ side covers the decision making and thought processes, whereas the compliance side covers the key risks themselves which employees need to make decisions on. Get one right, and the other should fall into place.

Johnson Matthey focuses on a number of key risk areas, including bribery and anti-corruption, competition and anti-trust, export controls and sanctions, data protection, and conflicts of interest.

“If you have an ethical culture” says Jonathan, “it will drive the right decision making on the compliance side.”

The importance of building a strong ethical culture
“Companies don’t speak out, people do.” says Jonathan. “They’re the decision makers at the end of the day, and they need to understand the impacts and effects of their actions before they decide.”

“The rules of the road need to be established right from onboarding, and you need to be disciplined and persistent in your messaging. Otherwise, ethics and compliance becomes a tick box exercise and it gets dropped to the side.”

Empowering your employees to hold themselves and others accountable mitigates risk, and also shows your colleagues that ethical practice is important to the organisation.

Getting to the middle
The best leaders lead by example, ‘casting a shadow’ for colleagues to emulate. But for a company of 12,500 employees, Jonathan’s shadow can only travel so far, and that’s why he aims to “get to the middle” of Johnson Matthey to make sure his message is heard.

“The greatest number of our employees are middle managers, and that’s where all the tension lies as they receive orders from the top but also give them out. They’re the glue that holds Johnson Matthey together” says Jonathan.

“The best way to get through to them is to show face in-person. In the past year, we’re really making an effort to embody that in-person role of a plant manager, walking the floor, showing face, asking how people are. We want to develop genuine relationships so they’ll feel we care and value what they say, which will make them comfortable to speak up.”

As Jonathan warns, you can’t eliminate risk, but you can mitigate it.

If you want to hear the full conversation and get even more expert insight into building an ethical culture, listen to the full episode here.