Tone at the Top: It’s More Than ‘Don’t Steal From Your Company’


Cora Bullock
Assistant Editor, Fraud Magazine

At my time here at the ACFE, I’ve learned many methods that companies use to create an ethical culture, including tone at the top, which is the behavior exhibited by upper management that trickles down throughout the organization. I used to think this was only stuff like not embezzling millions from your company, telling the truth to your board of directors and taking responsibility for your sometimes delusional decisions. But I’ve learned there is a more subtle aspect to tone at the top: caring for your employees.

I was taking a recent basic safety course offered by ACFE President and CEO Jim Ratley, who covered such topics as vehicle maintenance, the best locks for your home and how to handle yourself in a physical attack. At one point, Jim looked into our eyes and said intently, “If any one of you ever finds yourself in trouble at 3 a.m., and you have no one to call, you call me.” And I believed him.

Our senior management genuinely cares for us. They have programs in place to reward money-saving suggestions and have offered classes on everything from good nutrition to public speaking to writing. Employees have taken fitness boot camps, and coming up is a class on proper posture and positioning at your desk so your body isn’t a wreck by 5 p.m.

It’s not all be the best you can be. We’ve had happy hours with great door prizes (goodbye dry cleaning bills for a month!) and a summer party with free food, drinks, games and even a dip in a pool. Dr. Wells and Jim regularly come by to chat with everyone, just to see how we’re doing. My husband Clayton and Jim are on a pool team (as in billiards) named “Bad Shape” and play games every Wednesday night. And almost every Thursday morning, Jim comes by to reassure me that Clayton didn’t play as poorly as Clayton lamented he did. I genuinely look forward to our chats – how many other employees can say that about their CEO and president?

All of this, I realize, makes me care that much more about my fellow employees and my organization. I’m proud to work here, not just because of its stellar reputation, but also because people care about me here.

So, what has your company done to show its tone at the top?