Ethics and Compliance: Placing These Issues at the Heart of Your Organization

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March 06, 2020

Ethics and Compliance: Placing These Issues at the Heart of Your Organization

By Sergey H

Director, Global Compliance & Risk Catholic Relief Services

In this blog post, Sergey H. answers key questions surrounding Ethics and Compliance, asking which is more vital, and how you can place Ethics and Compliance issues at the heart of your organization’s everyday activities.   


Acting Ethically VS. Being Compliant: Which is More Important?    

While there are, traditionally, distinct differences between ethics and compliance:  

  • Ethics - Internal behavior (doing the right thing)  
  • Compliance - External behavior (doing the things right) 

At Catholic Relief Services (CRS), we see ethics and compliance both as external and internal (both doing the right thing and doing the things right).  

To achieve our mission we accept resources from donors (including governments) under the terms and conditions that we agreed to comply with in advance. It is, therefore, unethical to not live up to these expectations and/or not disclose any compliance limitations. At CRS, integrity and honesty are the foundations of ethics and are the drivers of strong compliance.  

When building our compliance program(s), we ensure that ethical aspects of compliance are well articulated and are part of the organizational communication/messaging and culture. Looking back on the past, there were instances in which we found ourselves in conflict with compliance requirements (activities) that did not align with our mission, principles, values, and/or ethical norms. In such instances, we either found immediate temporary solutions and/or disclosed our organization’s limitations and inability to perform the requested activities due to the existing values-based conflict/s.  

Ultimately, it is more important to act ethically than to be compliant, and furthermore, it is unethical to not disclose limitations and make informed choices.  

Embedding Ethics and Compliance into Your Organization’s Everyday Activities 

How can you successfully ensure that your organization is striving to ensure that Ethics and Compliance are embedded into the heart of its everyday activities?  

Here are three tips for how your organization can better embed ethics and compliance into their everyday activities:  

1) Infusing Ethics & Compliance Topics: Instilling these topics into agency behavioral competencies and/or guiding principles. 

2) Mainstreaming: Naturally integrating the placing of the requirements and standards into relevant activities.relevant activities. 

3) Organizational Training and Learning Opportunities: This could be achieved by immersing these topics into required training provided to staff at all levels, starting at onboarding, by providing refresher training throughout staff tenure, and by supplementing required training with optional related learning opportunities. 

At CRS, Ethics and Compliance are embedded in our Agency Behavioral Competencies and Guiding principles –  

Agency Behavioral Competencies: Integrity, Building Relationships, Continuous Improvement & Innovation, Accountability & Stewardship, Developing Talent, and Strategic Mindset. 

Guiding Principles: Social Nature of Humanity, Sacredness & Dignity of the Human Person, Rights & Responsibilities, Stewardship, The Common Good, Subsidiarity, Option for the Poor, & Solidarity 

To further emphasize these, at onboarding, staff are required to complete online learning modules that cover CRS’ Behavioral Competencies and Guiding Principles, which discuss Ethics as a central component of CRS’ mission, programming, and work around the world.   

It is in these ways that CRS strives to ensure that Ethics and Compliance are embedded in its everyday activities.  

How to Highlight Ethics and Compliance Issues to Board Members  

Board engagement effectiveness can be increased by highlighting issues through clear problem statements being highlighted, proposing recommendations, and enforcing accountability through monitoring and reporting. To reach executives and the board at CRS, we use methods of effective escalation (bottom-up) and semi-independent mechanisms (ERM Council, Compliance Council, Inter-divisional Working Groups, and other advisory bodies). These methods and mechanisms reach those higher up in the organization by using briefings, recommendations, and reports. 

By using these techniques and approaches, you can embed and mainstream Ethics and Compliance issues into the everyday activities of your organization, ensuring that Ethics and Compliance issues remain at the heart of your organization.  

Thank you, and stay tuned for the next blog! As always: “Protect. Perform. Improve.”, and let me know in the comments below or anywhere on social media what you think and what you would like to see more, or less, of.  


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The content of this post may have originally appeared on December 4, 2018, in the E&C Pulse Newsletter. 

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