My title may sound provocative, and you might think I’m undermining the importance of the role communications teams play in many companies, but that’s not true. Give me moment to explain.

Imagine integrity risk management as a human body. Communications is the windpipe of that body. No matter how sophisticated and developed your existing systems and organisations are, poor internal and external communications alone can pull the rug out from under all your past achievements.

You can see this in the daily life of many companies, which have become more and more vigilant as to their reputation. In fact, reputation risk is by far the undisputed number 1 strategic risk companies face today based on recent surveys.

Managing your integrity risk and ensuring your compliance are the most effective ways of saving your company from bad press. I find it disconcerting how companies fail to prioritise and value the quality of their integrity risk communications.

All Year Round

Many companies invest a lot of money and management time in building up their compliance systems. However, the practicalities and implementation of these systems are most often delegated to group legal or internal control teams.

Often at best, every employee has to participate in annual e-learning programmes, which for some reason are always scheduled to occur in the middle of the most hectic budgeting season. Meanwhile other communication techniques and methods are ignored.

In order to make your integrity risk management efforts fly, focus on phased behavioural changes instead of a heavy duty e-learning torrent once a year. This is also where communications teams should show their claws.

Talk Like a Person

In order to achieve lasting results, employees need incentives to make many small commitments. Your company’s values and behavioural expectations need to be widely known in your organisation.

I don’t believe in lists of do’s and don’ts. They can easily puzzle the individual. Unstructured threats don’t pay off in the long run.

When communicating compliance issues to employees, use positive and inclusive language and use a style they’re familiar with. Short and repetitive bulletins are much more effective than a one-off torrent of opaque legalese.

Why not also challenge the almighty role of e-mail? Try using electronic bulletin boards, town hall-meetings, newsletters and blogs, Q&A pages, sales booths in meetings, voice casting or any number of novel methods. Good integrity risk communications should emphasise the pleasure related to change and the pain related to old habits.

Make Sure Middle Management Is On Board

Ideally the whole organisation should support the communication of integrity risk issues. Especially the mood-in-the-middle should be beefed up.

The role of middle management in compliance communications is vital. If you don’t get them on board, the message will erode before it reaches the lower levels of your organisation.

Although communications strategy is managed on a c-suite level, integrity risk communications cannot be delegated and siloed in the organisation if you want results. Don’t just focus on existence and volume of integrity risk communications, focus on its quality and make sure you colleagues understand you core messages.