As a federal prosecutor with lots of trial experience, I generally know what questions to ask a witness or a defendant.  In the compliance arena, there is much more leeway in how and what questions you ask.

Many companies conduct employee surveys. These surveys are usually administered by human resources across the organization every year or two. I do not oppose these surveys but recommend that companies manage their culture by making culture surveys a higher priority.

To ensure an ethical culture, companies have to measure the existing culture, focus on specific regions where company culture may be deficient, and take action to improve and promote a culture of ethics. Measuring a company’s culture does not have to be done across the entire organization. Companies can conduct targeted surveys in specific regions or operations.

Along with measuring a company’s culture, a Chief Compliance Officer has to report on the state of a company’s culture. Too often CCOs get lost in irrelevant details and fail to report on meaningful measurements. A company’s culture is the foundation of a compliance program – if the foundation is not set, the compliance program is unlikely to be effective.

Going back to a culture survey, companies have to consider what questions to ask and make sure they are tailored to the specific concerns that the company wants to measure.

In general, here are some suggested areas for crafting questions.  (These are not specific questions but general topic areas).

  • How the employee views the organization.
  • Whether the organization provides clear guidance to the employee concerning expected conduct, securing proper authorizations, handle money and other financial assets, potential conflicts of interest, and handling of confidential information.
  • Whether the employee would report misconduct committed by another employee.
  • Whether the employee’s supervisor sets a good example of ethical behavior, communicates the importance of ethics and integrity, and is honest and reliable.
  • Whether the conduct of the Board and senior management sets a good example in terms of ethical behavior, communicates the importance of ethics and integrity, and would ever engage in unethical or illegal conduct.
  • Whether the employee is asked to complete tasks that conflict with company values and expectations, which break company rules, and which conflict with other employees’ norms and values.
  • Whether the employee works in an environment in which everyone treats each other with respect, and other employees act contrary to supervisors’ expectations and rules.
  • Whether management is aware of unethical and illegal incidents that occur in the work environment and take action to report and correct such actions.
  • Whether management seeks and is receptive to employees’ opinions about work assignments and ethical conduct.
  • Whether management rewards and recognizes employees who are committed to ethical conduct.
  • Whether management will punish employees for engaging in unethical or illegal conduct.
  • Whether the company will impose discipline fairly when an employee engages in unethical misconduct.

These are only some suggestions. There are more questions that can be asked and different ways to fashion them to make sure they are clear and concise. Surveys should not be very long and should be targeted to specific concerns.