The Funny Side of Ethics and Compliance

Getting employees to pay attention to compliance is the first step toward changing their behavior.

Compliance and ethics awareness isn’t a topic known to elicit laughter. In fact, most employees associate it with boring documents, rules, codes of conduct and disclosure laws. And often they are right. So it makes sense to find interesting ways to present the information, to increase retention and buy-in.

“There’s a general philosophy that you can’t bore people into learning anything…Whoever decided that business had to be boring?” asks Ronnie Feldman of The Second City Communications, which makes humorous ethics and compliance videos, called RealBiz Shorts. Just because you have a captive audience doesn’t mean you don’t have to engage them and win them over, he says.

“You have to present them with something that rises above the noise of a typical business communication because people tune it out,” says Feldman. You have to get them to pay attention before you can get them to change behavior, he says. And boring compliance and ethics documents aren’t going to do that.


Compliance Comedy

Not surprisingly, compliance and ethics officers are also considered to be a pretty staid group, more concerned about cracking corruption than cracking a smile. But not always, as spectators at a June event at The Comic Strip in Manhattan found out. The search for America’s funniest compliance officer brought out corporate professionals from all over the country, who performed stand-up routines, many of them about their jobs.

The night’s winner, Michael L. Shaw from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC, performed as an overwrought compliance officer who sees risk everywhere. He told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal that he takes compliance very seriously, but that “Sometimes I use humor to better convey what might come off as complex and dry subject matter.”

Feldman and Shaw aren’t alone in seeing humor as an effective vehicle for getting people to understand and engage with compliance and ethics programs. Compliance Cartoons produces custom cartoons designed to address ethics and compliance issues, sometimes incorporating members of the ethics and compliance management team as characters in the cartoons.


Getting Humor Right

That some companies are making an effort to infuse interest and increase employee engagement in ethics and compliance bodes well for the future of an industry that is becoming more and more important.

Humour is a great way to get your message of ethics and compliance across to your employees, but just make sure they’re laughing at the right things, warns Feldman.

He says that companies sometimes want to do something different by making ethics and compliance videos, but they don’t know how, and they tend to make a couple of mistakes:

  1. They put too much learning into them and create something preachy that doesn’t resonate with their audience.
  2. They use humor to make fun of the solution, which undercuts the message.

“That’s why we focus on the challenge and the problem because you don’t want to make light of how to solve an FCPA issue,” says Feldman. You can highlight the anxiety that people go through when they are encountering these situations, but you shouldn’t make fun of the importance of the problem, he says.

Here’s how Second City Communications does it: