$15.00 managerial communication
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Total S.A. is the world's fourth largest oil group with 111,000 employees worldwide. In 2000, it grew substantially after acguiring rivals Elf and Fina. As a result, its CEO decided to shape a new ethics culture for this larger emerging company, based on a new code of conduct and a dedicated ethics committee. Here, Richard Lanaud and Philippe Gateau explain how the communication team worked with the committee to implement it and help ensure it's adhered to.
Total S.A. faces issues typical of companies within the oil sector - it's geographically widespread, culturally varied, located in some politically difficult regions and environmentally sensitive areas. Its businesses are also diverse, including oil and gas, chemicals and power. It takes great pride in its code of conduct, which is displayed prominently on its website and regularly updated and distributed to all employees.
But while it's relatively easy to devise codes of conduct, it's much harder to ensure that all employees behave ethically at all times. Chairman Thierry Desmarest realized early on that external assessors would be an important element of translating business principles into behavior and that the company would have to work hard to ensure that people understood how the code translated into their everyday work.
Four actions for the code
As part of the mergers in 2001, an interim committee was appointed to develop a code of conduct. Then, post-merger, a committee of senior executives was set up. It consists of five members, one from each part of the business - exploration and production, refining and marketing, gas and power, chemicals and one from the central holding company.
Once Total's code of conduct had been finalised, the company recognized that it needed to do more than simply post the code on the website to ensure it was known and adhered to. The ethics committee worked with Total's central communication team and the communication teams in the four organizational branches to translate the business principles into practice. They helped to create a four-stage action plan to launch and maintain the code:
* To be sure all employees received a copy of the code.
* To raise awareness of the contents of the code and explain what it means in the everyday work environment - particularly to managers.
* To check the code is applied correctly through external assessors.
* To find a way to listen and advise employees on a confidential basis should they face an ethical dilemma or want to report something.
1. Distributing the code globally
Since 2001, the communication teams have distributed 275,000 printed copies in nine languages to every part of the organization. Employees can also download copies of the code from the intranet and internet, and it's also available in poster format.
Updated copies including any changes or additional material are regularly distributed through the communication teams in the four main organizational branches.
Philippe Gateau, director of communication, and his team monitor how well people are receiving information through regular online surveys, the findings of which they use to identify areas for improvement. "Even if an employee received the code four years ago, they need updates as the company regularly reprints it," he says. Each time this happens it's supported by an awareness campaign in the internal publications.
2. Raising awareness
In a further bid to raise awareness, the committee enlisted the help of the communication team to set up ethics road shows. Since 2003, there have been 30 road shows, reaching 1,800 top and middle managers.
One of the latest of these was a dedicated ethics seminar in Singapore, aimed at operational management. Twelve subsidiaries and more than 30 nationalities took part and, understandably, the topics remained fairly general to avoid alienating people. "If you're going to be more specific you need to lower the spectrum of the audience, either through people's profession or by targeting people geographically via their country or continent," says Gateau.
The first half of the seminar focused on ethical concerns inside the company, solutions the company favored and how they compare against companies with similar concerns. This was followed by workshops including role plays of ethical dilemmas and solutions.
Aside from dedicated ethics events, the team also ensures that a member of the ethics committee is booked to speak at any other internal seminars that take place. This is especially important for those addressing new entrants or new managers.
3. GoodCorporation Standard
From the launch of the code, the chairman was adamant that an external assessor would be used to check that it was being adhered to. In 2001, the committee appointed UKbased GoodCorporation to do the job. According to Richard Lanaud, chairman of the ethics committee, there were a number of reasons for this choice: "They had a good reputation; they were associated with the Institute of Business Ethics; they had an interesting methodology; and international connections."
GoodCorporation helps organizations to develop, manage and monitor their corporate responsibilities. Its standard, which is based on a set of principles devised by the Institute of Business Ethics, sets out a framework of policies and good practices against which organizations measure how effectively they're meeting their objectives.
GoodCorporation worked with Total to establish a specific set of criteria consisting of 84 check points derived from the GoodCorporation standard and adapted to Total's code of conduct. GoodCorporation carries out 10 ethical assessments a year within Total, in a strictly internal process. The committee then works with the business unit in question to put any necessary changes in place.
The ethics committee also develops examples of best practice from the assessment process, which the communication team plans to distribute across the businesses before the end of 2005 via the company's global intranet sites.
4. Employee feedback
Since the first employee survey in 2001 after the code's launch, Lanaud has noticed a definite decline in the number of people who say they're not sufficiently informed about the code. "We're at what could be considered a satisfactory level but we'll maintain the pressure," he says.
Employees concerned by any ethicsrelated issues have been able to contact the ethics committee directly and in confidence since 2001. Lanaud is keen to point out that it's a different service from the typical company hotlines because instead of sending an anonymous message, the employee has direct contact with a committee member. "Their first point of contact is their line manager, but they can contact the committee as a reference point, a catalyst or a means of clarifying their understanding and course of action," he says.
New tools for the future
The team is currently preparing new tools such as e-learning and more workshops geared to business units with subjects targeted to their concerns. Lanaud and Gateau plan to offer each business unit a choice of workshops, which can then be adapted to their specific needs. "We'll have less people per workshop and that will allow us to dig deeper into relevant concerns and situations they're likely to face," says Lanaud.
Pilots of the new formula are already working well and a new set of workshops is being planned. But there are no plans to put a rewards systems into place to support the codes of conduct. That would go against the culture of Total S.A. says Lanaud. "It's not the French or European style to reward people for being ethical."