In December of last year, internal emails from employees of the Miss America Pageant surfaced. In the emails, which dated back as far as August 2014, CEO Sam Haskell told the lead writer of the telecast, Lewis Friedman, "I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call them Forever Miss Americas....please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!"

In response, Friedman said: "I'd already changed 'Forevers' to 'Cunts.' Does that work for you?"

Instead of reprimanding his employee for the disrespectful language, Haskell simply sent a reply that said, "Perfect...bahahaha."

Understandably, many former Miss America winners have since called for Haskell's resignation. While that has not happened, he is currently suspended from his role with the organization.

As shocking as this story is, it is not uncommon. More and more, leaders are being ousted from their positions because they've crossed an ethical line. According to PwC's 2016 Strategy& study, between 2012 and 2016, there was a 36 percent increase in the number of forced CEO turnovers due to ethical lapses. Some argue that this is because leaders are becoming less ethical. But it's also a sign of the times.

Now there is more transparency in the workplace. There are also countless online news outlets looking for stories. Employees can share on social media anything they see in the office. If a leader makes a bad decision, it will get out.

This is why it's important for companies to have internal check systems, like ethics officers. These employees are experts in the law and compliance. Leaders can turn to them for help when they find themselves in a compromising situation. The ethics officer can then advise the leader about what to do, helping the company to avoid a scandal.

But since this is a newer problem for leaders, an ethics officer is also a newer position. This makes it hard to know how to go about hiring one. Here's how you approach finding the right ethics officer for your company:

1. Set expectations.

Whenever you create a new role in your organization, there needs to be agreed upon expectations. Senior managers have to be on the same page with regard to what the ethics officer will do and what type of authority they'll have.

Nick Bednorz is the CEO of Comensure, a regulatory compliance platform. He recommends that leaders sit down and define the objectives, purpose, responsibilities, and outcomes for an ethic manager.

Also, take into consideration what types of communication skills leaders prefer. Whoever is hired as the ethics officer, they need to be someone whom the leader feel comfortable coming to in a difficult situation.

For some leaders, this means having a relationship with clear boundaries. They would feel uncomfortable going to anyone they felt was a friend more than a co-worker. Ask senior management to be open about what type of situation would work best for them.

2. Identify company needs.

Every company is different. So are the types of problems it is vulnerable to and what skills it takes to objectively avoid them.

For example, if your company has international locations, or does business with a lot of international clients, you need an ethics officer who is familiar with different geographies and cultures. They need to be able to advise leaders about different perceptions about what constitutes appropriate behavior.

Also, take an honest look at the company's culture. Where are there weaknesses? If there is distrust between employees and leaders, an ethics officer needs to be prepared to deal with that. If there's a history of sexual harassment complaints, they need to be able to clearly communicate where the line is so employees at all levels don't cross it.

If you're not sure what problems exist in the company, conduct an employee feedback survey. This will give you the basic information you need to know so you can see where there might be problems later on.

3. Focus on communication.

There is no point in an ethics officer if the right communication channels aren't in place. And given the sensitive information these employees have to deal with, any candidate has to be able to communicate with all types of people.

When people find themselves in a gray area, they're confused. They need someone who can clearly and effectively explain the issues and choices they are facing.

To get an idea about each candidate's communication skills, have them role-play different scenarios. Explain to them a dilemma a leader has faced in the past. Then, give them a brief description of what that leader was like. How they choose to respond will show you if they have the communication skills necessary to fill the position.

Published on: Jan 24, 2018