Conference Board Finds Ethical Training Lacking

A survey released this week by The Conference Board shows that few corporate directors get training in ethics and compliance - two traits that investors rely on them to exhibit.

Highlights of the survey of human resource and legal officers attending an ethics conference in New York include:

  • While 81 percent of firms have conducted ethics and compliance training among their employees, only 27 percent have held any training sessions for their directors.

  • About 55 percent of those surveyed say their boards are "not engaged enough" in major ethical issues involving the company.

  • Some 67 percent of the surveyed executives say compensation for senior executives is “out of control” in their companies.

    "Ethics officers, along with Warren Buffett, recognize that extremely high short-term incentives can distort long-term business performance. The finding that is most troubling – both in itself and because of the message it sends to all the honest, decent employees – is that in over 60 percent of companies, executives who do the wrong thing actually get rewarded with a severance package instead of what they deserve. What do they deserve? Let’s let the employees and shareholders who have lost billions of dollars decide," said Steve Priest, who conducted the survey, and is founder of the ten-year-old Ethical Leadership Group.

  • Nearly 5 percent promote "great performers" who don’t live up to their companies’ values, with 22 percent saying they "tolerate them" and more than 25 percent reporting that they "coach them." Less than 8 percent of the companies fire them.

  • While a large majority of these surveyed firms have toll-free hot-lines for employees to report concerns about ethical lapses, 69 percent of the executives say that fear of retaliation is a "big issue" in their companies.

  • About 41 percent expect 6-10 more major business scandals among Fortune 500 companies during the next 12 months.

Copies of the full survey can be obtained by contacting courter@conference-board.org.

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