Practical tips for embedding measurement into ongoing management reporting so that you can deliver on your ethical values

In my earlier blog I suggested that we need measures and flags that indicate at a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis that we are either in compliance with our ethical standards or we have issues.

That’s all good in theory, but what about in practice?

I’ve worked in US-Listed companies, who have rigorous and costly compliance routines which were developed and mandated in the wake of the Enron moral and financial collapse. But for many individuals and organisations, following a detailed rulebook is too complex and still prone to failure.

So if it’s not written policies, what is the solution?

I used to work at Traidcraft, one of the UK’s pioneers of social reporting, who embedded a requirement for social accounts into their governance documents well before it was fashionable and built a culture of ethics and the consideration of wider impact into their management and decision making.

Here are some tips on how we can embed delivery against ethical priorities into our organisations:

  1. Don’t try and measure everything. Focus on metrics which can be influenced by employee action and are relatively easy to measure. Ideally, they will also have the greatest positive impact / greatest risk if a failure occurs.
  2. For the measures you pick, make sure that data is generated, collated and reported on an ongoing basis, preferably through automated processes. E.g. If you are concerned about the CO2 generated by flying, ensure that all travel expense claims auto-calculate the air miles and accounted for that statistic alongside the financial cost of airfares.
  3. If you can’t find enough metrics in category 1 above, find those that have symbolic value and will help employee engagement. How about “% of our canteen tea and coffee bought on Fairtrade terms”?
  4. Focus on measures which reinforce positive outcomes, not penalise failure. If safety is your priority, then celebrate the number of days since a lost-time accident, rather than reg-flagging the number of accidents.
  5. Make compliance statistics visual and easily accessible. When I worked at Attends Healthcare, our factory literally had a traffic light at reception which was green when there had been no lost time accidents.
  6. If you have to focus on flagging ethical exceptions, make it impossible, difficult or painful (within reason) to fail.
  7. Be publicly accountable on an ongoing basis – Traidcraft’s “Who picked my tea” campaign is a good example, where consumer pressure led to the UK’s six major tea companies publishing a list of the estates they source from in Assam – a region blighted by scandals of worker-rights abuses. Now, these companies have a very public incentive to ensure the ethical standards in their Assam supply chain.

Overall, the values have to be embedded as the cultural norm of “how we do things around here”. But small steps and consistent signposting using methods such as those suggested above can make a difference to positively transforming the culture.

About the Author

Andy Biggs MA BFP FCA runs InfoSuperstar and VISMAP, businesses committed to equipping organisations to grow by connecting strategy to the visualisation of metrics.

As a Trustee of debt advice charity Community Money Advice and as a former CEO and FD of Fair Trade pioneer Traidcraft, he understands the connection of purpose with impacts that reach beyond bottom-line profit. After training as a Chartered Accountant he honed his skills working as in Finance for large corporates and a PrivateEquitybacked Healthcare business.