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Ethics and Compliance Benchmarks 2021: A Muddled Landscape

Covid-19 has left companies debating their next steps forward.

At SAI360, we believe it’s important to regularly gauge how organizations are responding to rapid changes in the Ethics and Compliance landscape. In our second seasonal benchmarking survey, we uncovered key insights into how current events are shaping E&C strategies.

  • Systemic racism: While about a third of companies responding to our survey are prioritizing anti-racism training, the rest are conflicted about the topic. We recommend listing to this webinar to learn why addressing systemic racism is becoming a trend for leading brands.
  • Code of Conduct: A majority of respondents report that training activities lead with conflicts of interest, data privacy, information security and cybersecurity. We recommend actions such as a review with desktop IT support teams to determine if there are data trends that indicate employee awareness needs to be refreshed on cybersecurity best practices. See available training on data protection in our 30-min webinar.
  • Pandemic: Nearly all expect that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will leave a lasting mark on corporate culture and risk beyond 2021, and that it’s also driving initiatives to update Codes of Conduct.


Centering code of conduct

We asked participants if their organization had a rewrite, refresh or redesign of their Code of Conduct on the priority list for 2021. The majority of respondents indicated that updating the company’s Code of Conduct to reflect pandemic-related changes is a central issue.

Just over 24% of respondents indicated that their organization is prioritizing these updates and have already begun the process, while 18% have prioritized the updates but not started the process yet.

Approximately 23% of companies are foregoing Code of Conduct updates because they already made changes in 2020, and 14% have already made changes over the past three years. Just 16% of respondents indicated that senior leadership does not consider Code of Conduct updates a priority.

Shifting attitudes on anti-racism training

SAI360’s collaboration with the National Association of Black Compliance and Risk Management Professionals (NABCRMP) has introduced a new online training: “Addressing Systemic Racism in the Workplace.” This course is unique in the E&C space, and meant to address gaps in organizational Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Survey respondents were asked if their organizations intended to deliver training on systemic racism as a means of acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement as well as other social and political events.

  • Nearly 26% of respondents indicated their company will be implementing a DEI or systemic racism program and have already obtained the training tools necessary to do so.
  • An additional 6% intend to implement a program but do not yet have appropriate training.
  • However, 22% of respondents weren’t sure at all, 17% believe it’s not the E&C program’s responsibility, 16% don’t believe it’s an issue for their business, and 2% believe the topic is too volatile to touch.

While about a third of companies are pressing forward to prioritize anti-racism training as part of E&C, the rest are still conflicted as to the importance of the topic and what arm of the company should bear the responsibility.

Determining training emphasis

Next, we asked which topics organizations were including in planned curriculums for 2021. More than 70% of respondents reported their company would train on Code of Conduct, conflicts of interest and data privacy, information security and cyber security. Closely following categories were sexual harassment, misconduct, respect and workplace issues with 57% planning to train, discrimination and diversity with 52% planning to train and careful communications including confidentiality and records management with half of companies planning to train.

Less than half of respondents indicated their curriculums would include anti-bribery and corruption, competition and antitrust, financial integrity and trade compliance. These numbers indicate that broader social issues and problems caused by remote work during Covid-19 have moved to the forefront of training goals, with 60% of respondents convinced that employee activism and whistleblowing will continue to rise.

Measuring training success

Even as companies move to shore up their training curriculums, there is the significant challenge of measuring efficacy. More than 77% of companies look to the percentage of employee course completions as a benchmark. The second most frequent benchmark of success is a rise in hotline intake volume, used as a measure by 41% of respondents in the survey. About 25% of respondents expect to rely in part on monitoring E&C infraction volume, while another 21% expect to factor employee performance scores into the equation.

Many respondents volunteered additional metrics for potential evaluation, making it clear that there is currently no standardized method for measuring the impact of training initiatives.

Countering the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

The specter of Covid-19 is driving a significant amount of the change companies plan to create in 2021. Nearly 87% of respondents report that they expect the impact of the pandemic to linger over corporate culture and risk beyond 2021. As a result, 62% of respondents confirm that their organization will spend time reflecting on values and policies this year, and 56% say their organization will spend time and resources to improve business continuity plans.

Maintaining confidence in culture and compliance

Although many respondents are in industries hard-hit by Covid-19, the overall sentiment regarding leadership, compliance and company culture is generally hopeful. Almost 66% of respondents believe their leaders and managers behave in a way that is consistent with written values, and 54% believe senior leaders who violate the Code of Conduct are held accountable.

Nearly 67% of respondents report actively speaking about the importance of E&C throughout the company and that employees can raise concerns and report misconduct without fear of retaliation. Additionally, 67% say employees who violate the Code of Conduct are held accountable.

While the majority of respondents expressed confidence in their organization’s dedication to E&C, around a quarter expressed concern about a lack of accountability and inadequate emphasis on maintaining a culture of ethics and compliance.

Preparing for an uncertain future

Each organization has its own approach to improving E&C in 2021. Still, the majority of companies are making changes in response to how the pandemic has disrupted every industry and will continue to shape business in the future. As more organizations find the most effective ways to measure program efficacy, we will gain a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t in the evolution of ethics and compliance.


What was the state of E&C programs 6 months ago? Read our October 2020 benchmark report.

Learn more about our solutions for ethics & compliance learning and Code of Conduct training.

Or, request a demo to understand how we’ve helped organizations like yours. We offer versatile Learning solutions for mid-size to enterprise organizations.

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