Cisco Systems: Ethics Training Best Practices

At the end of 2008, Cisco Systems revealed their unique approach to ethics training for their workforce. Many companies look for ways to make training enjoyable for employees. Cisco Systems has been able to prove that a company can effectively incorporate humor into an ethics training program and still get the message across. In the article “Cisco Transmits Ethics To A ‘Wired’ Workforce,” by Andrew Singer, Ethics Program Manager Jeremy Wilson stated “all too often training officers are inhibited by the thought that “legal would not like that.” Compliance-related topics are inherently dry, and companies shouldn’t shy away from seeking new ways to connect with your code and your employees.”

Connecting with a “Connected” Bunch
One of the key factors allowing Cisco to carry out such a creative approach to their ethics training is all of their employees work on computers and are connected to the Internet. The “Cisco Transmits Ethics To A ‘Wired’ Workforce,” article by Andrew Singer also featured comments from Christine Style, the Ethics Marketing Manager at Cisco, who mentioned “Cisco’s ethics office has at any time between two and five individuals working in it—yet it must get the message out to more than 50,000 employees. We are utilizing technology to do this, including communication instruments like blogs and discussion forums so we are not answering the same question 50 times.”

Even if the entire organization isn’t connected to computers and Internet, there may be certain groups within the organization that are. To become more effective, these types of tools could be implemented into their training program.

Cisco’s “Ethics Idol”
Another way to connect with employees is to engage them with something that they are familiar with. At Cisco, they created animated videos as part of a series called “Ethics Idol”, a parody of the tv show “American Idol”, in order to spark employee interest in the training process. Jeremy Wilson explained the premise of “Ethics Idol” in this article:

“Featured on Cisco’s Intranet, it presented a series of animated ethics scenarios that are evaluated by judges. Cartoon characters sing about different ethics situations—sales practices, procurement issues, and other common dilemmas. Employees also vote, making their judgment calls on each ethical situation. The ‘contests’ have also been run by DVD in a live setting. Cisco managers use ‘Idol’ handbooks that explain how to run the contest. Ethics Idol helped raise awareness to Cisco’s employees that each ethical dilemma is not always cut and dried, and if they should have any questions to refer to the Cisco Code of Business Conduct for guidance.”

In another article by Jim Duffy on NetworkWorld regarding Cisco’s innovate ethics training program, Jeremy Wilson was quoted saying “We even had several employees volunteer to sing or perform in future Ethics Idol modules. For the first time in Cisco’s history, employees are excited for the next round of ethics training.”

We have discussed the importance of ethics and compliance training in our article “How to Maximize Your Compliance Training ROI”. The example at Cisco Systems ties in nicely with the article because it shows that training can be something employees look forward to. During training, you are asking employees for their attention and time away from their work tasks, make the most of the time and present the content in the form of something your employees can relate to. Cisco Systems has done a great job tapping into their employees in order to get a strong return on investment in their training programs.