Would you live in a messy apartment building with all-night parties, where building management ignores your concerns, and if you complain you get labelled as high maintenance? Probably not. But imagine that you are elderly and it is a building dominated by college students? It would be intimidating being from an under-represented group to go into a building with low standards of conduct.
On the other hand, imagine if building owners have created a respectful environment, where speaking up is encouraged, where there is a consistent response to complaints and no fear of retaliation. You'd check it out on-line and if the claims held up you might be excited to go into a place like that, even if you are elderly in a college student building.
Is the workplace any different? All employees—but especially under-represented groups—will gravitate to employers who have exceptional standards for workplace conduct, reinforced by management systems that drive continuous improvement, and that respond when the standards are not adhered to.
While the conduct in some workplaces has improved, the recent news reports of sexual harassment are shocking to all of us. More must be done. My colleagues, Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer and Chad Jerdee, our General Counsel, recently wrote a blog on the importance of organizations taking a firm stand on identifying, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. Hopefully this encourages other corporate leaders to take firm action against this behaviour.
This is my fourth blog about the things that work when leaders are trying to build a diverse and inclusive enterprise. Today I will provide my thoughts on how to create a workplace that is like that good building which I described. Most large companies have a code of conduct. But few have a rigorous measurement and accountability system and a truly independent misconduct response process.
At Accenture, we survey our global workforce (425,000 people) every second year on our workplace conduct. We call it Conduct Counts. The survey goes to 100 percent of employees. In Canada, we had more than 1500 responses to our last survey. We ask detailed questions such as whether the employee has experienced any of 11 defined types of misconduct in the past year. We also ask questions that yield a score for: "frequency of misconduct", "respectful environment", "speaking up", "response to misconduct", and "fear of retaliation". The survey scores are segmented and compared by business unit within each country, and across countries. Business unit leaders are given read-outs, highlighting gaps vs. previous years and vs. other units. A short list of improvement priorities is then agreed upon. Recently the results for Canada and the United States were presented in detail (and, yes, compared) at our North American Leadership Team meeting.
We are not immune to misconduct. While we do what we can to prevent it, it is unrealistic to expect that in a company our size that we would never experience employee misconduct. What is critical is how the company responds. Like many organizations, we have a misconduct response process. Ours is run by our HR organization reporting globally to Ellyn Shook. When a complaint is made, it is assessed and handled through an appropriate process, depending upon the nature of the issue. When a formal investigation is required, the investigations team does its work—meeting with the individuals directly involved in the matter, as well as other relevant witnesses. Factual conclusions are reached, and line management is asked to implement a specified remediation.
Our survey results increasingly show that when issues are reported, the situation changes for the better. I give credit to a strong cultural foundation, as described by Ellyn in her blog, combined with Conduct Counts and our misconduct response process.
I wish all our people knew what I know about our misconduct response process. But, we must keep the situations confidential. They would learn that we take action with all individuals who engage in misconduct in our working environment, including senior leaders, clients and vendors. Depending on the situation, we try to give individuals who engage in misconduct time and help to improve. In these cases, the misconduct isn’t being condoned or tolerated. Our expectation is that the individual’s conduct will improve immediately.
Ours is a complete system: measurement, accountability, follow-up, backed-up with an independent misconduct response process. The magic is in having all pieces of the end-to-end system. It creates a workplace where everyone feels safe. It works.
I do not tolerate sexual harassment in our workplace. As for the other 10 types of misconduct, the Conduct Counts survey gives me the data on that too, which enables me to focus on where we need to improve. I want everyone to be comfortable to speak up with confidence that we will respond, and without fear of retaliation.
In our “apartment building” everyone is safe and supported. And what a competitive advantage that is.