Obviously, in every compliance program, the ethical tone of a company and accountability all starts at the top and most specifically senior management. The Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs – Guidance Document (2019 Guidance) stated, “The company’s top leaders – the board of directors and executives – set the tone for the rest of the company. Prosecutors should examine the extent to which senior management have clearly articulated the company’s ethical standards, conveyed and disseminated them in clear and unambiguous terms, and demonstrated rigorous adherence by example. Prosecutors should also examine how middle management, in turn, have reinforced those standards and encouraged employees to abide by them.” To assist companies in understanding this requirement the 2019 Guidance sets out the following inquiries.

Conduct at the TopHow have senior leaders, through their words and actions, encouraged or discouraged compliance, including the type of misconduct involved in the investigation? What concrete actions have they taken to demonstrate leadership in the company’s compliance and remediation efforts? How have they modelled proper behavior to subordinates? Have managers tolerated greater compliance risks in pursuit of new business or greater revenues? Have managers encouraged employees to act unethically to achieve a business objective, or impeded compliance personnel from effectively implementing their duties?

This requirement is more than simply the ubiquitous “tone-at-the-top,” as it focuses on the conduct of senior management. The DOJ wants to see a company’s senior leadership actually doing compliance. The DOJ asks if company leadership has, through their words and concrete actions, brought the right message of doing business ethically and in compliance to the organization. How does senior management model its behavior on a company’s values and finally, how is such conduct monitored in an organization?

Three key takeaways:

  1. Senior management must actually do compliance; walk-the-walk, not simply talk-the-talk.
  2. Use your CEO to talk about current events and how those ethical failures are lessons to be learned for your organization.
  3. CEO as Compliance Ambassador.