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By Joseph E. Murphy, JD, CCEP, Director of Public Policy, Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics 

Incentives help drive behavior!

While incentives are common in businesses, homes, schools and other contexts, the use of incentives in the context of compliance and ethics programs has been slow to catch on. This has been true because many compliance and ethics officers don’t understand that “appropriate incentives” are a required element of an effective compliance and ethics program as articulated under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and because too many in management and on boards believe that most employees will naturally “do the right thing.” Unfortunately, the evidence suggests just the opposite. Without adequate controls and incentives, most of us will (at least occasionally) do the wrong thing.

With the growing distrust of business and the increasing levels of misconduct, it will become critically important for businesses and other organizations to do a better job of using incentives as a tool to drive the kind of behavior they expect of employees. By developing appropriate compliance and ethics incentives, management and boards can demonstrate their commitment to compliant and ethical conduct in the organization; they can significantly reduce the risk of illegal or unethical conduct; and they can fulfill their fiduciary obligations to ensure that the organization has an effective compliance and ethics program.

Mr. Murphy’s paper on aligning incentives provides a road map for organizations which understand the incentive imperative but have been struggling with execution. It is a must read for every compliance and ethics officer, as well as for board members and management who are concerned about the impact of non-compliance. I have heard many board members and managers tell me that they are serious about compliance and ethics. The adoption of some of the incentives described in this paper will give those board members and leaders a chance to prove that commitment!