Codes and Comms: focus on fashion

Last week, I wrote about code switching and how Chief Compliance and Ethics Officers (CCEOs) and Compliance & Ethics (C&E) departments need to engage in more of it in the content of their communications.  This requires an investment of time, active listening, and a focus on proactivity in our interactions with employees.

There’s an aspect of code switching, though, that is simple and takes much less time:  the clothes that our communications wear.  What I mean by this is that as we move toward shorter messages with narrower focus, we should give some thought to how those messages look.  The most visible example of this is the Code of Business Conduct.

Think about most of the Codes that have been updated within the last few years with graphics and additional information.  You probably noticed that the color schemes, fonts, and overall design have the same look and feel as the company’s website and marketing materials.  When I work with companies to update their Codes, we do this on purpose.  It sends the signal that the Code is an integral part of the company’s fabric and culture.  The last thing you want is for the appearance of the Code to tell employees that it is different and separate from the everyday workings of the company.

All of C&E’s communications should send the signal that C&E is an integral part of the company’s fabric and culture.  Because of this, C&E should be working with Marketing to ensure that all of C&E’s communications look and feel like all of the other documents that the company generates.

Every rule has its exceptions.  If C&E is sufficiently embedded into the culture, meaning that employees view it as a resource rather than as the company’s police force and feel comfortable asking questions and seeking advice about thorny issues, then C&E can probably get more creative with its graphic design.  My sense is, though, that most C&E departments aren’t at this point yet.

It may feel boring or creatively stifling to march to the company’s drum on graphic design requirements when it comes to C&E communications.  When C&E creates its own brand separate from the company’s, though, C&E risks reinforcing its image as being out of touch with the business, as being the “Department of ‘No,’” as being the enforcer of the company’s nanny state.  It’s a small thing, but we ignore our company’s marketing guidelines at our (and our employees’) peril.

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