Why Doing the Right Thing Matters

  • March 13, 2019
  • Lisa Picotte-Li

Why Doing the Right Thing Matters

Expectations and trust have changed. Stakeholders, shareholders, regulators and customers now expect organizations and their leaders to not only comply with the law but also embrace standards of conduct that exceed even the spirit of the law. The external requirements to comply are still there, but a culture of integrity has become critical to being able to achieve sustainable growth aligned with the values and purpose of a business.

A culture of integrity means more than avoiding illegal practice. It means doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do and ensuring the people of the organization are more likely to make decisions that genuinely reflect the values of the business. A culture of integrity inspires confidence and respect, promotes trust within the organization, and instills a sense of responsibility that is core to its philosophy.

As more business leaders become aware of the importance of organizational integrity, lawyers are frequently asked to develop corporate compliance programs to identify and prevent violations of regulatory requirements. These programs generally focus on increasing responsibility of senior management, improving communication and enforcement of organizational policies, and greater oversight through audits and monitoring. Emphasis on a program of deterrence is necessary but also presumes people need the threat of discipline to do the right things.

Most people have a strong moral belief in the legitimacy and correctness of following rules. There are also many examples of conduct that is legal but lacks integrity such as labour, environmental and safety requirements. Establishing legal compliance as a measure of integrity is a starting point. A culture of integrity is the next step.

A culture of integrity gives meaning to an organization’s values and creates an environment of accountability. A culture of integrity enables responsible behaviour that goes to the core of an organization’s purpose. It is what the organization stands for when the convenience and marginal costs of doing something wrong seem remarkably low.

In-house counsel have the opportunity to shape and design strategies for creating a culture of integrity so that it becomes ingrained into the fabric of the organization. From compliance to governance structures, in-house counsel are part of the cultural ecosystem. We can—and should—prioritize integrity among business leadership:

  1. Set the tone. Demonstrate integrity and professionalism, emphasize core values, and ensure there is clarity of purpose in regards to acceptable behaviour. It is not only the action but also the accountability and ownership of the action that drives behaviour and, ultimately, change.
  1. Transform compliance into integrity. Although a strategy for legal compliance is without a doubt an important objective, there is opportunity in its implementation and maintenance to set the values of the organization as its frame of reference. Integrated internal channels of reporting and proactive management can protect an organization early on, even before a problem surfaces.
  1. Engage and empower. The values of an organization might evolve, grow and change, but the way in which an organization conducts itself should reflect its culture of integrity. In-house counsel are in the unique position of shifting the question from “Is this legal?” to “Is this right?” They also provide their organizations with the tools to ask appropriate questions. Training, education and development of best practices can go a long way to fostering an environment of positive behaviour.

Integrity is essential to achieving sustainable growth. Changes in culture take time, but a culture of integrity attracts and retains talent, engages stakeholders and employees, reduces risks and tensions, and can even impress regulators. Exceeding the spirit of the law and raising the standard of what it means to do the right thing benefits everyone, moving us from good to great.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not her employer.

Lisa Picotte-Li is Legal Counsel at Technical Safety BC. She advises on provincial safety requirements including corporate and regulatory compliance. Reach her at Lisa.Picotte-Li@technicalsafetybc.ca.