“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. If a rose were called a Lungwort* or Toad Lily*, it might smell the same, but wouldn’t evoke the same sense of romance. Words evoke emotions. What you call something matters. That’s true in love and also in compliance.
Sometimes we unwittingly use words that turn off our audience. We might use words that are common in our industry, but don’t resonate with our business colleagues or stakeholders. Depending on your company culture, you may consider swapping out one of the following terms for something more user-friendly.
“Conflicts of Interest”
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “conflict” as “an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.” Sometimes “conflict” is used as a euphemism for “war.” Conflict is definitely not a friendly word. In fact, the requirement to “declare” a conflict may, in and of itself, make many people uncomfortable.
What might work better? A friend of mine ran a compliance program for a multi-national company with over 20,000 employees. Year after year, only about 30 conflicts of interest were registered. When polling employees, she found that the word “conflict” evoked negative connotations. She changed the name to “Declaration of Relationships.” Even though the process was the same, reporting improved dramatically.
I worked with a firm helping to create its compliance program from scratch. They bristled at the words, “Code of Conduct,” because in their industry, the word was synonymous with “regulation.” They chose “Commitment to Integrity” as the title of their Code. I’ve seen variations of this, including, “Spirit of [Company Name],” “[Company Name’s] Values and Ethics Statement,” and “Our Commitments.” Consider whether “Code” sends the right message in your business.
The term “third-party” can create confusion among people outside the legal and compliance department. Many companies choose the phrase, “business partner” or “business associate” to denote their third-parties. This term feels more inclusive and is more descriptive of the relationship with the third-party. It may also help the business people to understand which “third-party” is in-scope for due diligence.
For some, the term “Whistle-blower” evokes guilt and fear. Many whistle-blower hotlines have been successfully re-branded as “Speak Up Line” or “Helpline.” One clever company called its hotline “Ask Polly.” The company drew up a cartoon person that would be on the other end of the line to help answer questions. Everyone knew if they had an issue that they could Ask Polly, and she’d answer.
Consider whether you want to use the word “Compliance” to describe your department. Some companies have moved to titles like the “Business Integrity” team, as most employees want to be associated with ethics and integrity.
Some may argue that these suggestions are meaningless semantics, but how you describe things matters. Just ask florists - sending Pigsqueaks* for Valentine’s Day isn’t likely to catch on.
[* These are real flower names]