Mark Ohringer, Executive Vice President, Global General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Jones Lang LaSalle, explored business ethics and its role in today's legal departments during his keynote presentation to Argyle's CLO membership at the 2017 Chief Legal Officer Leadership Forum in Chicago on November 30. In his presentation, Ohringer helped legal departments teach employees how to avoid ethics violations.
According to Ohringer, legal departments usually create ethics guidelines for employees to follow. These departments teach workers about ethics and explain the consequences for ethics violations. Yet most legal departments ignore the problems associated with trying to hide secrets within an organization.
"When you train your people on your company's code of ethics … the best lesson you make sure that everyone understands and make sure no one ever forgets is that their secrets will hate being kept," Ohringer said. "Secrets cannot stand being restricted, and they will do anything possible to break free."
Employees may try to do everything they can to hide ethics violations. However, these violations ultimately will come to the attention of legal departments and may cause long-lasting problems for an organization.
Even a single ethics violation may cause an organization to suffer substantial brand reputation damage and revenue losses. Perhaps even worse, an ethics violation may lead customers to choose an organization's rivals in the future.
"Secrets cannot stand being restricted, and they will do anything possible to break free."
How legal departments teach employees about ethics violations is paramount. Legal departments develop tools and resources to teach against ethics violations when they go beyond standard training.
"Corporate ethics and integrity training … often tries to appeal to the higher moral spirit," Ohringer stated. "We tell our people that we are fiduciaries for our shareholders … but this message likely only works with the people who weren't going to commit mischief in the first place."
Legal departments must do everything they can to ensure employees comply with ethics guidelines at all times. Ohringer said, "You can appeal to employees' most basic sense of self-preservation and scare them into compliance by convincing them of the likelihood that they eventually will be caught and exposed."
In addition, legal departments must show employees that hiding or attempting to cover up ethics violations creates substantial risk for an organization.
A clear definition of an ethics violation often helps create an environment of transparency and collaboration within an organization. With this environment in place, employees may be more likely than ever before to communicate with legal teams and share their ethics concerns and questions with them. That way, employees and legal teams can work together to minimize ethics violations.
"Ethical violations involve trying to keep a secret or engaging in some kind of cover-up," Ohringer pointed out. "The only way that you think you are going to get away with an ethics violation is for your company not to find out about it."
Furthermore, visualizing ethics violations before they happen can make a world of difference within an organization.
"Before knowingly committing an ethics violation, employees should visualize their secrets."
Thanks to visualization, employees can understand how an ethics violation can impact them and their respective organizations.
"Before knowingly committing an ethics violation, employees should visualize their secrets," Ohringer recommended. "Different pictures will benefit for different people … but all of these [pictures] should be thought of as ethics violations packed together in a tightly closed space."
It is essential for employees to understand their ethical responsibilities as well.
Each worker is responsible for helping an organization accomplish its goals. As such, every employee must follow an organization's ethics guidelines to build confidence in their day-to-day roles.
"People often are more confident in their abilities and more open to risk than they imagine," Ohringer stated. "And we all think we are more ethical than we actually are."
Ethics violations are problematic for organizations of all sizes and across all industries. Fortunately, visualization can play a key role in an organization's ability to stop ethics violations both now and in the future.
Teaching employees how to visualize ethics violations may prove to be exceedingly valuable to an organization. If workers can visualize ethics violations and their ramifications, these workers can tailor their responses to potential ethics violations accordingly.
Ohringer said, "People should be constantly aware of their limitations." "They should visualize different situations in advance and program their responses."
Mark J. Ohringer oversees the firm’s legal, compliance, ethics and insurance programs on a global basis.
With over 75,000 employees in more than 80 countries, JLL (NYSE:JLL) provides comprehensive integrated real estate and investment management expertise on a local, regional and global level to owner, occupier and investor clients. It is an industry leader in property and corporate facility management services, with a portfolio of 4 billion square feet worldwide, and annually provides capital markets services on more than $100 billion of client transactions. Its LaSalle Investment Management subsidiary is one of the world’s largest and most diversified real estate investment management firms, with over $58 billion of assets under management.
From April 2002 through March 2003, Mark served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Kemper Insurance Group, Inc., an insurance holding company. Prior to that, he served as General Counsel and Secretary of Heller Financial, Inc., a commercial finance company, since September 2000. He had previously served in various positions of increasing responsibility within the Heller Financial legal services function. Prior to joining Heller, Mark was a Partner at the law firm of Winston & Strawn. He has a B.A. in Economics (summa cum laude) from Yale College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.