Note: This is a guest post from Complí, a Hireology partner that manages HR and compliance initiatives across the entire workforce. We’re sharing expert content from the Compli team on the Hireology blog on a regular basis.
Tone at the Top: What leaders say or don’t say—what they do or don’t do—directly influences employee confidence, trust, and behavior.
But don’t assume the only leaders in a company are the executives. In fact, those with the most influence on the rank and file are the managers and supervisors who interact closely with employees on a daily basis. Study after study shows just how powerful “Tone in the Middle” can be on workforce performance:
- A recent Gallup report found that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, and that employees supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged at work themselves.
- The same report found that only 35% of managers are actively engaged, and that the current number of disengaged employees costs the U.S. between $319 billion and $389 billion annually.
- Research by economists Stephen Dimmock and William C. Gerken indicates that employees who witness or learn of misconduct are more likely to commit it themselves—essentially, that one bad employee or manager can corrupt their entire team.
Numbers like these prove what many of us already suspect: that the closer a leader is to her team, the wider her influence on their attitudes. That means the outcomes of your organization’s HR and compliance program hinges on your frontline managers.
Breaking Through the Middle Manager Barrier
Chances are that your middle managers are among your busiest employees. They’re caught in the crossfire of directives coming down from on high, translating those strategies into realistic action plans, and then making things happen on the ground. It isn’t that middle managers are necessarily opposed to ensuring compliance objectives and obligations are met, but that these initiatives just aren’t making their way above day-to-day operational duties and responsibilities.
To fully inhabit their roles as influencers, managers need to see compliance as an inherent fact of their jobs, rather than something separate and “tacked on.” Most managers conceptually buy into the need to mitigate risks at the departmental and individual levels, but feel strongly that they have a “real job” to get done first. Taking time out for presentations and training—as well as having to hound direct reports about staying current on their policy reviews and assertions, safety certifications, and the like—isn’t naturally a high priority.
To break through this barrier, you need to share with your middle managers the why, what, and how of the company’s compliance objectives. You’ll need to impart an understanding of where your organization is going, how compliance and ethics align with these strategic priorities, and the details of your plan to reach your program goals. Armed with this framework, middle managers will be better equipped and inclined to more effectively influence the people on their teams, departments, and projects.
Tone in the Middle Starts with ACE
Everyone tasked with running HR and compliance programs needs an “ACE” in their pocket. To broaden the network of program advocates within the ranks of middle management, make sure your programs emphasize Accountability, Clarity, and Ease:
Accountability is a foundational element of any worthwhile program. There’s truth in the adage, “that which gets measured gets done.” Work that requires updates and progress reviews gets completed. Work that is assigned, but never followed up on, usually gets ignored. HR and compliance programs are no different. Starting with the tone at the top, compliance requirements usually trickle downhill: activities get assigned department-by-department, down to the individual contributor. What’s often missing, however, is a visible flow of information for managers to assess gaps and progress. Without this information, an organization has no way to hold people accountable for addressing and correcting deficiencies, let alone noticing deficiencies in the first place.
From a psychological perspective, accountability appeals to the competitor in all of us. Managers can use compliance scores to motivate their team: “let’s be the first to get to 100% compliance” or, “don’t be the person who drags our team’s score down!” Whether used as a carrot or stick, accountability is what benchmarks an initiative. It also reinforces that compliance is something everyone is invested in—as a team, department, and company.
Clarity is power, especially for managers. Your managers are busy people with no time for ambiguity or misunderstanding. They need to know what’s expected of them and their teams—as well as when it’s expected, and why and how they’re expected to do it—in a consistent, understandable format.
According to Michael Rasmussen, principal analyst of GRC 20/20 Research, no organization is in a position “to drive desired behaviors or enforce accountability if policies are not clearly written and consistent.” As he puts it: “Well-written and presented policies aid in improving performance, producing predictable outcomes, mitigating compliance risk, and avoiding incidents and loss.” By being clear in all messages, materials, and expectations, you’re making it far easier to enlist middle managers as compliance advocates, and for them to communicate the information to their teams. It means less time and energy spent answering subordinates’ questions, greater consistency in interpretation and communication of policies.
Ease is main the reason program compliance actually happens. Smart organizations make sure the right thing to do also the easiest thing to do. Compliance and ethics topics may raise difficult questions of integrity and morality, but the rationale behind corporate policies—and the implementation of guidelines and procedures—should be easy to both understand and execute.
For example, consider two approaches to enforcing a company policy regarding gift-giving. The first involves a long email filled with policy language and a barrage of questions that need answers by the end of that week. The second is a text message with a link to a short video explaining the policy—sent weeks before the information is needed. This is followed by a pre-scheduled email with a link to an online form that quickly captures the required information. A text message confirming receipt of the response and offering a quick thank-you for completing the request on time then completes the process. Which of the two alternatives would likely have the highest levels of participation?
When program activities are easy to accomplish, learning curves are shorter. The manager and team can simply follow the next prompted instruction because it is the path of least resistance. Moreover, when auditors come calling, processes and controls are well-documented and testable, saving time, effort, and expense. Everybody wins.
Use Automation to Transform Compliance Into a Fundamental Part of the Job
How can an organization increase accountability, clarity, and ease within its HR and compliance programs? The answer is automation.
By thinking out each process and transforming it into a repeatable workflow, organizations can lead their managers through the required steps of a process quickly and efficiently. A manual approach frequently leaves it to a manager to figure out what needs to be done next. That’s not only a difficult question for managers, but an opportunity for confusion and unaccountability—a manager is much more likely to drop the task.
Making processes into easy, repeatable workflows requires you to codify desired practices and procedures, and subtly embed objectives and best practices within routine activities. In other words, automation makes program compliance a natural, ongoing part of the job. That alone gives managers almost everything they need to become your greatest compliance advocates.
After all, what are managers best at, if not making sure employees do their jobs?
Complí provides a cloud-based solution that manages HR and compliance programs across your workforce. Automate learning and compliance business processes in one easy-to-use system for your employees and your managers. Deliver defensible proof of compliance to your auditors and executives to keep cool, calm, and compliant.
The Hireology and Compligo platforms are now integrated and work together to help businesses manage workforce programs across the entire employee lifecycle. Through the integration, customers can easily find the best candidates, efficiently complete hiring & onboarding processes, and keep employees on track with ongoing regulatory and compliance requirements.