In just one year, Bianca Forde improved the ethics and compliance program at Otis Elevator Company through collaboration, innovation, and data-driven solutions, said Chris Moore, vice president of legal affairs at Otis.
Emphasis on data.
It was data Forde turned to when she stepped into her role in late 2021 as senior director and counsel, head of ethics and compliance for the Americas at Otis. Prior to joining Otis, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) in Washington, D.C., where “our only job was to do the right thing,” she said. She found the principles at Otis aligned with those of the USAO.
Forde joined Otis in late 2020 as head of global investigations; within eight months, she received a promotion into her current role.
Forde was named Compliance Innovator of the Year at the 2023 Excellence in Compliance Awards.
Otis, founded in 1853 and headquartered in Connecticut, is the largest elevator and escalator company in the world, with 69,000 employees and about 2.2 million units serviced.
The 21-person ethics and compliance officer (ECO) team Forde leads is spread throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America. In addition to geographical challenges, some team members work part time and/or have dual commitments.
The world was still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the United States was experiencing “social unrest,” Forde said of the time she assumed her current role.
“How was I going to inspire this group, motivate them, and win their trust?” she said in a telephone interview.
Naturally, Forde turned to data.
She conducted a survey of the ECO team and “learned their challenges.” Leveraging data allows for actions that are “inventive and preventive, rather than reactive,” Forde said.
The result was a restructuring of the team to better allow them to see themselves as “champions of corporate culture,” Moore said.
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Forde meets with the ECOs from each region biweekly and discusses open investigations with them, aligning on strategy and supporting where needed.
She also invites the full team to a monthly “lunch and learn” meeting, in which team members learn from each other’s experiences and challenges with recent or ongoing investigations.
The meetings also allow her to “share updates on initiatives and the vision, and it facilitates team building,” Forde said.
“These efforts are creating a pipeline of ethics-minded leaders at Otis,” said Moore, who is Forde’s supervisor and nominated her for the award.
Internal data also showed investigations needed to move along better, so Forde’s team made changes to make them more efficient, which has benefited the entire company, she said.
Setting up for ethical success
As one of her early actions as Americas ethics and compliance leader, Forde reviewed the company’s data on terminations of employees for ethics breaches and violations.
She saw a higher number of ethical lapses and violations occurred among employees with less than five years at the company.
“What I learned early on in compliance is that culture is the most important driver of behavior. You can have as many policies as you want, but if ethics isn’t deeply ingrained in your culture, our colleagues won’t feel supported when ethical challenges arise.”
Bianca Forde, Senior Director and Counsel, Head of Ethics and Compliance for the Americas, Otis Elevator Company
Forde and her team “created and launched a user-friendly, Otis-branded ethics and compliance onboarding guide in April 2022, which communicates cultural expectations to new colleagues, setting them up for success along their Otis journey,” Moore said.
The guide explained company culture, expectations, and policies in “easily digestible terms,” Forde said, with a goal to “set our employees up for success.”
The guide has been adopted for global implementation across Otis, Moore said.
Forde’s team further changed the way ethics messaging was being communicated to Otis employees to make it more accessible and effective.
What started as a PowerPoint delivered to managers, requiring them to find the right words to convey ethics messaging, was modified by Forde’s team until she saw it met with success.
The result was a rebranded “Ethics Moment,” a short video with recorded talking points created by Forde’s team and delivered to all managers and branch managers for viewing each month.
All the managers have to do is press play to present the information and then lead a discussion afterward, Forde said. Putting them in charge of the discussion “empowers middle managers and branch managers to be ethics ambassadors,” she said. When employees view their supervisors as ethical, they are happier, more productive, and more engaged, she added.
The final slide of the video shows how to report concerns or violations, including anonymously. When employees feel safe speaking up about ethical breaches, they also feel welcome to share their ideas on other matters, Forde said.
Regarding the trial and error involved in creating the video, “I’m not afraid to pivot,” Forde said, noting she embraces “data-driven disruption.”
Improving field staff relations
A large chunk of the organization—41,000 field-staff employees—was rarely in an office and wouldn’t be able to regularly take advantage of sit-down ethics meetings with management.
“They’re repairing, installing, and modernizing elevators ; they’re on the move,” Forde explained.
She knew the environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) department had a direct link to field personnel through a mobile portal field employees regularly accessed on their phones, as well as through a separate training platform.
Forde’s team adapted Ethics Moment for mobile devices and the EH&S training platform. When mechanics are not busy with a job and they check in, they see the ethics messaging, Forde said.
The goal, Forde said, is to “reach every corner of our organization.”
“What I learned early on in compliance is that culture is the most important driver of behavior,” she said. “You can have as many policies as you want, but if ethics isn’t deeply ingrained in your culture, our colleagues won’t feel supported when ethical challenges arise.”
As a result of her collaborative approach, the company’s progress in reaching its field colleagues is “unprecedented,” Moore said.
Many of the field staff are members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors. To further develop ties with the staff, Forde’s team reached out to the union, and the two organizations decided to collaborate for Ethics Week 2022 about the importance of a harassment-free workplace. Forde’s team created the messaging.
Forde is “having a positive impact beyond Otis,” Moore said.