Modeling the Message: Communicating Compliance Through Organizational Values and Culture

28 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2012 Last revised: 12 May 2013

Date Written: October 1, 2012


Ethical leadership matters. Organizational culture drives compliance and culture is transmitted and reinforced by communications through multiple channels, notably including the observation by employees of management behavior. In particular, employees judge the legitimacy of an organization’s ethical leadership and authority not only by explicit communications received in the workplace but also by messages received via example and practice. This paper surveys behavioral science findings on how cultural attributes and management practices can either promote or undermine voluntary adherence to ethical standards, workplace rules and legal requirements, with special attention to the communicative aspect of management practices. Legalistic, command-and-control messaging is discussed and its inherent limitations and adverse side effects are contrasted with the virtues of ethical or values-based messaging. Particular concepts discussed include decision framing, group identification and commitment, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, legitimacy, procedural fairness, and value congruence. Specific markers of an ethical corporate culture are identified and practical suggestions offered for a communications program designed to foster a genuine “culture of compliance.”

This paper was honored with a Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing in 2013.

Keywords: organizational culture, corporate culture, compliance, ethics, ethical leadership, law, values, integrity, management, communications, behavioral science, framing, monitoring, commitment, engagement, command and control, whistleblowing, motivation, fairness, behavioral ethics, social psychology

JEL Classification: J53, K20, K22, K23, K29, K42, L29, M12, M14, M54

Suggested Citation

Killingsworth, Scott, Modeling the Message: Communicating Compliance Through Organizational Values and Culture (October 1, 2012). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Scott Killingsworth (Contact Author)

Bryan Cave LLP ( email )

United States

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