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Golden Values at Coors

March 1, 2005
In the aftermath of events at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, the emphasis on ethical business operations has reached a fever pitch. But it didn’t take a scandal or the wrath of the press for Adolph Coors Co. to put a comprehensive program in place. Over the last decade, the brewer has provided an array of tools to help employees understand ethical issues and effectively cope with them.

    The Golden, Colorado, company has developed one of the nation’s most comprehensive ethics programs. The company emerged as a model by offering its 8,500 employees a spate of resources, including interactive online courses, ethics leadership training, a decision map, a highly detailed set of policies and a help line.

    Last month, Coors completed its acquisition of Molson Inc. and is now Molson Coors Brewing Co. By summer 2005, the additional 6,500 employees--including those in Canada and Brazil--will complete the firm’s ethics training.

    "The goal of the program is to step beyond rules and guidelines and teach employees how to think, clarify and analyze situations," says Warren Malmquist, who developed the program and serves as director of Coors Audit Services. When he started the program in 1990, the company’s ethics policy was little more than a basic code of conduct and set of guidelines. Since then, the firm has continually added features that are deliberately focused on a strategy of "prevention" rather than "investigation."

    In 1996, Coors introduced a company-wide affirmation process. Initially there was some resistance from union and employee groups that didn’t like certain provisions in the ethics policy. With education and training, however, it was better understood and accepted.

    "We realized that it was essential to develop a code of ethics that is meaningful rather than a legal-based document that’s difficult to understand," says Caroline McMichen, group manager of ethics and audit services.

    A cross-functional team rewrote the code of conduct to make it more user-friendly and accessible to workers. Then in 2002, Coors invested $250,000 in an interactive Web-based module to help guide employees through real-world scenarios and ensure that they understand key principles of ethics. The program uses an "ethics expedition" theme that requires employees to ascend from a base camp to the top of a mountain by completing activities in each of four camps. As the employee ascends, the topics evolve from rules to values, from black-and-white issues to shades of gray.

    All new hires must complete the online course within 90 days as a condition of employment. Existing employees must take a refresher course every year or two. All employees, from senior executives to those loading trucks in the warehouse, must partake in a Web-based ethics training module. All employees have access to the help line, which they can call with questions about an event or relay concerns about an ethical breach. Today, the help line receives about 25 calls per quarter, and Coors investigates each one, McMichen says.

    Employee evaluations at Coors factor in how well workers model the behavior outlined in the company’s ethical code of conduct. McMichen notes that while it’s difficult to measure results in terms of numbers or dollars, there’s no question that the program has paid handsome dividends. "People understand ethical issues and concerns more clearly and they are able to face situations more proactively," she says.

    The Adolph Coors Co. is the winner of the 2005 Optimas Award for Ethical Practice for implementing a customized program that has directly affected the way employees perceive their work and do their jobs.

Workforce Management, March 2005, pp. 52-53 -- Subscribe Now!