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Ethical misconduct at Adelphia requires new leadership and rebuilding.

In May 2002, Adelphia's founder and CEO resigned amid accusations that he and his sons had borrowed and used billions of company dollars for personal items. In June 2002, Adelphia declared bankruptcy. Nine months later, two experienced cable industry veterans came on board to lead the company. They started a turnaround effort to rebuild the company's reputation internally.

The new leaders wanted to ensure that the actions that had almost destroyed the company would never happen again. They worked closely with Adelphia's board of directors to adopt a new code of business conduct and ethics. In April 2003, the board adopted the code and mandated that the company share it with all Adelphia employees.


Adelphia employees made up the main audience for the new code of business conduct and ethics. Especially important to reach were executives, supervisors, board members, HR staff and new hires. The team also aimed its messages at the legal community and the media.


To build greater awareness of ethics issues at all levels of the organization, it was important to reinforce Adelphia's new values and new business mission, which included developing a reputation as a company with outstanding corporate governance. As role models, the company's managers and supervisors needed to make changes in support of the desired corporate culture change. It was also paramount to minimize Adelphia's risk of exposure in the event of an investigation or lawsuit by demonstrating that the company had proactively communicated ethics policies to all employees. Finally, the new management team wanted to further distance itself and the board from former executives and board members.

The team identified four main objectives related to these goals:

* getting 100 percent of executives and managers and as many frontline employees as possible to acknowledge the new code of business conduct and ethics by 31 Dec. 2003

* generating active use of a new hot line for employees

* having no employee lawsuits filed around ethical issues

* making outside experts, including the press, notice that Adelphia was serious about improving its reputation.


The solution contained many elements, including a communication strategy to plan and guide communication and to assure the board that corporate was working to restore employees' confidence in Adelphia. The team conducted a pulse survey of approximately 200 internal communication professionals, asking about their recent experiences with ethics communication. The results influenced the communication approach.

The team held town hall meetings to involve managers and inform them of the planned rollout of the conduct code and their roles in communication. Adelphia's management team answered questions and provided managers with points to use in talking both informally and formally with others.

Adelphia's electronic executive newsletter announced three major business initiatives, including ethics. By including ethics with the other initiatives, the team emphasized that ethics were intertwined with Adelphia's business strategy and 2003 operating initiatives, and not a standalone event.

The team created a folder that included the official code of conduct, along with a highlights sheet and a wallet card. In addition, the team arranged for an online acknowledgement form that employees would complete to show that they had received the folder, read it and were committed to following the new code. (For more details on the communication plan, see sidebar.)


Concerned about its cash flow, Adelphia had extremely small budgets for special projects. Therefore, it was important to design a kit that would attract attention, signify the substance and importance of the information, yet appear calming and modest.

Throughout all communication, the team emphasized that the policy change applied to everyone. The goal was to ensure that employees understood that the new code of business conduct and ethics was not just for executives (even though the recent lapse of ethics was with former executives). The team also had to ensure that employees realized that the new way of doing business was not a special one-time activity to please the bankruptcy court and impress the media.

The online system used to collect employee acknowledgement forms streamlined and sped up the process, while reinforcing the organization's focus on adopting more technological solutions. However, the system was accessible only through Adelphia's intranet, InSite. About 50 percent of employees did not have easy access to InSite, and at that time, the intranet was not totally reliable. To overcome these challenges, the team encouraged employees to go to supervisors, managers or HR representatives if they had trouble getting the form online.

To support HR staff in rolling out and explaining the policy, the team made the communication as self-contained as possible so that HR staff members in the field could meet face to face with employees and deliver messages with their own local flavor, without having to spend time creating custom messages and materials.


To measure the success of the code of conduct rollout, the team tracked performance against their objectives. As of 31 Dec. 2003

* About 95 percent of leaders had completed the acknowledgement form, and electronic signatures from 54 percent of the frontline employees had been collected.

* The hot line received about 300 calls from September through December 2003. Almost all of these calls were about HR matters and problems with tools and other on-the-job resources. Very few were related to potential violations of the code of conduct.

* No lawsuits had been filed.

The company also received favorable press coverage from several news outlets about the new code of conduct and ethics. In addition, employees offered positive unsolicited feedback.

As a result, the board and the company leadership viewed the policy change as a successful endeavor with an extremely high return on investment. Good ethical practices have become part of the new culture at Adelphia.

RELATED ARTICLE: Communication plan provides foundation for conduct change.

The communication team at Adelphia developed a comprehensive communication plan to educate and involve employees with the company's new code of conduct and ethics.

Among their efforts:

* setting up a hot line for employees to call to report possible ethics problems or ask questions

* designing a poster that highlighted the anonymous hot line number, reinforced the company's new business values and showed how the new values supported ethics

* producing a train-the-trainer kit. which included an employee presentation that HR managers could give at staff meetings to strengthen the messages contained in the folder, and to provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions

* preparing FAQs for HR managers and line managers to familiarize them with the issues, and to share with their employees if they so desired.

Ray Dravesky is director, employee communications, at Adelphia in Denver, Colo., USA. He can be reached at

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Title Annotation:case in point
Author:Dravesky, Ray
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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