Integrity policies suitable for SMEs?

Over the past decade, on few subjects, big & multinational companies have improved so substantially as on their integrity policy, sometimes also referred to with words like ethics, compliance, etc.

If you are a CxO or Director of a small or medium sized company and you haven’t dealt with this subject yet, it is high time to do so. Especially startups and fast growing companies that are developing internationally based on a patent or a specific technology in a niche market may be vulnerable and should take extra care.

Of course, SMEs can’t invest in this subject like multinational companies who have engaged integrity directors, prepared and implemented a full set of in-house training modules, selected ombuds-persons that dedicate part of their professional life to this subject etc.

Adapted integrity approach for SMEs

The following steps are within the reach of any SME and can be implemented rapidly, representing the main pillars of a simple, but robust, compliance policy:

  1. Establish a relevant and adapted compliance policy:
    • Think about what your business does and what risks you are exposed to.
    • How can you engage your team on this subject?
    • How do you screen your business partners?
    • Think about how you are (or should be) complying with laws (intellectual property, privacy, confidential information etc).
  2. Make integrity part of you company culture. And train your team, in a positive way, so that each team member knows what is expected from her/him.
  3. Establish an open reporting culture where people can voice their concerns about any issue related to integrity. For the worst case scenarios, there should also be the possibility to enter into contact, even anonymously, with a neutral third party that can treat the case in a professional way. No retaliation should be tolerated for anyone honestly questioning a situation or behavior that needs some careful thoughts.

What are the advantages for an SME to have such a policy?

When you and your team have properly embraced this subject, there are many advantages:

  • Recrute and retain the best: Startups and fast growing SMEs thrive on excellent professionals. These want to be sure that they are working in a healthy environment where their hard work will not be in vain.
  • To be accepted on the supplier lists of bigger companies, you will need to pass their “know your supplier” screening. Your company’s maturity in dealing with this subject will certainly be checked. In these qualification processes, you will be happy to show your structured approach.
  • You want to participate directly to government or MDB funded projects (from multilateral development banks like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, EBRD etc)? Their qualification criteria become more and more exigent on this point.
  • Avoid that your company will be exposed to compliance risks or gets in trouble. Do this by enabling early warnings and corrective behavior. Even in the recent past, many big companies got in trouble. As an SME, you will probably not survive such a situation.

Can you treat this subject in a positive way?

Yes, you can!

Integrity should best be presented in a positive way to be efficient. Give your team the opportunity to be (and remain) proud of their company, under all circumstances. This is extremely important for the motivation of the team. When people understand what is at stake, they will help avoid things going wrong. And this, early in the process,when damage (like harm to reputation and financial impact) is still limited.

People should be able to raise their hand and say: “Are we now seriously imagining to put some software in our cars to improve its performances just during the tests ?” If such a situation is exposed early enough and avoided  … the rest is history … But, new cases will certainly come, if no strategy is in place to avoid them.

Conclusions

As a startup or SME, if you do not have an integrity policy in place yet, put it at the top of your “to do” list.

Keep it simple and robust based on the following 3 pillars:

  • a clear and unambiguous integrity statement;
  • adequate training of the whole team; and
  • an open reporting mechanism to identify and resolve any potential problems early in the process.

You can do so at a modest investment and without overloading your internal ressources. Get in touch with us if you want some advice. Society is changing; Don’t be left behind !

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