Setting and embedding the right tone and culture within an organisation is not just the responsibility of senior management. Frontline managers have a key role to play in ensuring they are understood by staff and that both become part of a company's DNA.

Often frontline managers are the go-to individuals when an employee wants to address an issue or report potential wrongdoing. Employees with a question or concern are encouraged to report this to their manager before using other channels such as a whistleblower hotline.

Yet despite the critical role these employees play, they often lack training, are not sufficiently confident, don't know how to manage pressure, are unsure how to communicate clear expectations, and can be unclear on how to respond appropriately to employee concerns.

Setting up Managers for Success

So the first step for any organisation must be to ensure that managers are inspired to fulfil this role and given the practical tools to enable them to do it properly. In some organisations this means working closely with HR and procurement to help push Ethics and Compliance (E&C) programmes throughout the business, restating responsibilities to front line managers to drive delivery of the programmes with their teams.

Inevitably there are barriers to frontline managers becoming so called “culture carriers,” not least of which are time and relevance. Quite simply, if leadership cannot demonstrate the relevance of this role—and that it is aligned to wider strategic objectives—to frontline managers, then they are highly unlikely to find the time to perform it.

By definition, managers are busy with multiple responsibilities. It helps if successfully fulfilling the culture carrier role becomes part of an individual's overall performance objectives. Plain communications help in this regard and enable managers to see at a glance everything they need to know—potentially in the form of a user-friendly code of conduct.

Breaking Down Barriers With Training

But it's not just time and relevance that are problems. There are more fundamental blocks to managers becoming essential information conduits between different parts of an organisation. It is not until these issues are identified and understood that they can be removed.

Remarkably, despite the importance of the frontline manager role, our survey[1] of E&C programmes found that these employees often receive the least attention in terms of training and support. Nearly half of respondents (46%) indicated the risk most likely to confront supervisors in their organisations was “feeling or exerting pressure to compromise standards to achieve business results.” When financial pressures combine with limits on time and resources, a front line manager's work life can become very hard.

Acknowledging the Impact of Frontline Managers on Employees

The second-most prominent concern was “inadequate training on avoiding missteps,” rated as a high-level concern by 44% of respondents.

The tone adopted by senior management, as well as their actions, influences behaviours throughout an organisation. Similarly, failure to make frontline managers aware of the impact they can have on their direct reports and wider teams is a serious oversight. Managers should be properly trained and empowered to join the dots in their organisations. People who manage people must be role models and lead by example—any disconnect will undermine their ability to lead and inspire.

Encouraging a speak-up culture is important too. All issues that are raised must be investigated with rigor and there must be an effective mechanism for employees to report them. Employees who report issues must be able to do so without fear of any personal repercussions or retaliation. Some companies recognise how difficult it can be for people to speak-up and give credit when people do so—either privately or publicly.

What is Best Practice for Inspiring Compliance?

What is clear is that there is not a single “out-of-the-box” solution for training and inspiring managers. In short, if it works for an organisation and their people, it's the right approach. So companies employ lots of different tools— and the type and culture of the organisation goes a long way to determining their approach.

This could mean creating short video-vignettes of leadership conferences for dissemination around an organisation; creating "ethical moments" which reflect real-life ethical dilemmas to stimulate practical discussion; filming a documentary about frontline managers to help them reframe the way they think and behave; or staging awards to recognise actions that staff have taken to inspire colleagues.

Of course, getting the appropriate communication framework, ongoing training and tools in place is only part of the solution to ensure the right tone and culture pervades an organisation. Putting the right people in frontline manager roles is vital too. As part of the interview process, this might involve psychometric testing as well as assessing potential recruits against the values and ethics of the organisation. Interviews are likely to be competency based.

Conclusion

A strong E&C programme that creates the right culture and drives the integrity of an organisation is more important than ever. And a culture assessment will not only help to develop best practice protocols but may uncover issues that may have become embedded over many years. Failure to get the culture right can be a significant inhibitor of business success and, in the most extreme cases, destroy an organisation altogether.

Don’t let this happen to your organisation: address culture proactively with proper training and set frontline managers up for success.