Making an Effective Impact on Corporate Culture – Part V

By André H. Paris, Brazil
Professor, Compliance Consultant and Lawyer. SpiritSec’s Head of Compliance.


Other experiment on memory that support these assumptions is the one conducted by the former cognitive psychologist Ulric Neisser . Right after the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle the researcher asked 106 freshmen students to write down how they heard about the explosion, where they were, among other information.

Almost three years later the cognitive psychologist interviewed again the same students (now seniors) and asking the same questions made three years before.The outcomes of the experience revealed that our memory, even from remarkable events (a space shuttle explosion), is not as accurate and long-lasting as we think. Only ten percent of the 106 participants recalled the event close (and only close) to perfectly and 25% of the students presented highly different memories about the events in comparison to the answers given nearly three years before.


As you can see the findings of both Neisser and Ariely’s experiments presents a challenge to organizations.

One way to fulfill this demand of constant reminding the company’s ethical and transparency values, is through requiring its employees to certify that they read and understood applicable policy or procedure just before they engage in some activity that may tempt them to deviate from an ethical path.

For example, before having a meeting with a public authority or negotiating with new possible business suppliers, the employee involved (or third party acting in the name of the organization) would have to attest that he or she read and understand that his or her actions must follow the guidelines provided in the appropriate company’s policy or procedure (in this scenario the organization’s anti-bribery and anti-corruptions policy, the procurement policy, and maybe also its conflict of interests policy, among others).

Another example of how to make your employees recall the company’s values and ethical standards can be found in the habitual activity of e-mail exchanging.

This example will provide a combination of behavioral economics knowledge with Artificial Intelligence: an application could be introduced in the organization email provider’s software so that, in real time, the A.I. (after examining and detecting a key-word in the e-mail content) would suggest that the employee should read the applicable policy or procedure before sending the e-mail message that he or her is writing.

Think of the identification of words and expressions as “data share” or “price” presents in e-mails that will be sent to business partners or to business competitors that will “pop-up” a message with a link that leads to the suitable company policy and procedure (for instance the company’s data privacy policy when the expression “data share” is detected or its antitrust and/or conflict of interests policy when the word “price” is spotted by the A.I. and it identifies that the recipient’s e-mail address is a business one).

The examples shared above represents punctual actions triggered by specific situations that may deviate employees from an ethical path. But instead of reminding punctually its employees about the organization’s ethical values.


What if a company could provide conditions that constant remind them of the Company’s Values and Ethical Standards?

Some approaches that can help an organization to achieve this goal are:

i. Through placing signs across the company’s physical structure with ethical quotes, company’s code of conduct excerpts, or even signs with one of the company’s established values as its content.

ii. The same effort above can be made in a more “environment-friendly” way by fixing the same ethical and transparency messages in all the company’s devices screens (a variant of this approach can be accomplished by programming pop-up screens to appear when the employee perform some action, like logging in, or periodically, for example in every two hour they would get a different ethical quote, an excerpt of the company’s code of conduct or one of the organization’s values).

iii. Another way of pursuing to overcome this challenge is, also, through embedding the company’s established values in employees day-to-day working tool or objects, like pens, pencils, mugs, mouse pads, notebooks, stickers, working t-shirts, etc.



In the present serie of small articles we saw how behavioral economics knowledges can help a company fulfill its goal of fostering a corporate culture that values and prizes ethical conducts and transparent actions.

Based on the finding obtained in behavioral experiments conducted by subject-matter experts, such as Dan Ariely, Richard H. Thaller, Cass R. Sunstein and Ulric G. Neisser, the present study tried to provide methods for organizations to improve its pursuing for more ethical transparent corporate culture through enhancing its ability to influence positively its employee’s behaviors.

Some of the propositions made are:

i. Make sure the tone set by top management stimulates ethical conducts (and that top management itself not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk).
ii. Put in place financial incentives that prizes ethical behaviors.
iii. Establish and employ monitoring mechanisms, such an anonymous reporting channel for misconduct communication.
iv. Communicate, share, cherish and reward examples of ethical and transparent behaviors.
v. Identify, investigate and properly sanction (regardless of the hierarchical level that the employee involved occupies in the organization).
vi. Remember your employees the monetary value of the company’s assets.
vii. Make your employees recall that they are (supposed to be) honest!
viii. Because our memory is not as accurate and long-lasting as we would like it to be, remind them constantly, continuously, and incessantly of the assertion above.

By following these suggestions, as the outcomes of the behavioral experiments examined in the present serie of articles reveal, a company can enhance its capability to drive its employee’s behavior toward an ethical and transparent path.