Experts offer the following suggestions for how CFOs can create a more ethical culture in their organizations.
Set an example in the C-suite. Ethical CFOs can encourage better behavior among their colleagues, including the CEO, by modeling appropriate conduct and accepting accountability, leaders say. At the same time, CFOs should exhibit zero tolerance for unethical behavior, former CFO Aaron Beam says. “When you set your ethical standard below perfect and you rationalize that a little bit of cheating is okay, you’re getting on a slippery slope,” he said. People tend to have a herd mentality, and unethical behavior, especially at the top, has a way of polluting the company culture, he added.
Create a “speak up” culture wherein staff can report problems without fear of retribution. That’s what Michael Szubski strives to do with his finance team at University Hospitals. “It’s incredibly important to make people feel safe and comfortable identifying issues,” he said. CFOs should use open forums with staff to emphasize the importance of speaking up and should reinforce how leaders are expected to behave if an issue is identified.
Make your compliance department an ally to help your team act ethically. “Look at us as a resource that helps you,” said Christine Hogan-Newgren of The University of Kansas Health System. For example, at a prior organization, her compliance team helped finance leaders avoid unethical relationships by reviewing new physician contracts to make sure the arrangements complied with Stark Law.
Extend transparency to patients. Transparency can help support an ethical culture, and that includes being open with patients. Starting in 2020, Greater Hudson Valley Health System will allow patients to view physician notes in their electronic health record. “Ethically, it’s the right thing to do,” said CFO James Grigg, who believes finance leaders have an ethical obligation to ensure their organizations provide patient-centered care.