5 Ways to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer

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By Kristy Grant-Hart
KristyGH@SparkCompliance.com

Compliance 2.0 has many facets, but one key requirement is moving from the mentality of merely being a qualified compliance professional into one who is seen as an asset to the business.  It is no longer enough in today’s complicated regulatory environment to simply be adequate.  Instead, businesses need wildly effective compliance officers who can persuade and motivate the business to do the right thing and to be truly emotionally invested in the aims of the compliance program.

But how does a compliance professional move from being in a functional role to being a sought-out advisor?  I’m a former Chief Compliance Officer who studied the very best in the compliance business while writing my book, How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.  Following are five key ways I’ve found to be become wildly effective at your job.

1.      Decide that Your Job is to Protect the Business in Five Years

One of my favorite descriptions of the compliance role is the protector of the business five years from now.  The sales managers and C-suite tend to be focused on quarterly results, the latest product design, and the most current litigation against the company.  Our job in compliance is to see the bigger picture and to protect the value of the company in the future.  Short-term results may be more achievable if the business cuts corners, pay the bribe, skimps on health and safety, colludes with competitors or violates trade sanctions.  However, compliance’s job is to protect the reputation and value of the business further down the line by ensuring the business does the right thing today and always.  The goal of nearly every company is growth.  Wildly effective compliance officers see their job as the facilitators of growth done in an ethical and legal way.

2.      Look for the Motivation of the Business

When you’re asked for approval or advice on a project, do you look at the request on the paper, or do you try to see where the project fits in the greater context of the company’s plans?  Wildly effective compliance officers always try to understand the business and to see where the project and problems fit in.  When you understand the motivation of the business, you will be better placed to give more fulsome advice.  You will also be able to anticipate the secondary and tertiary requests which will be coming once you’ve given approval or denial for the project, so you can streamline the request process by anticipating the next question and answering it as well where appropriate.  The more you understand the business and understand the motivation behind the request, the more effectively you can answer queries.

3.      Do Your Best to Facilitate a Yes

Whenever possible, say yes to the business.  If the business has requested a process or procedure that you cannot approve, see if you can find another way to get to the business’ desired outcome.  For instance, the sales staff at a company I worked for wanted to work with a competitor to share information to provide a new service to the market.  The way that they wanted to do this would clearly violate competition law, so I knew I would have to say no.  Instead of saying no, I asked them for details about the outcome they wanted to create.  The business told me that the other competitor had a new service that would pair brilliantly with the offering of my company.  We figured out a way to bundle the product and service together in a joint offering via a third-party.  That worked to create the market opportunity the company wanted while protecting the company’s reputation and eliminating the risk of a regulatory investigation.  Whenever you can facilitate a “yes,” do so.

4.      Say No Effectively When You Must

We’ve all had the experience of reviewing a request and knowing there was no way we could say yes.  When this happens, tell the business as quickly as possible.  When you must say no, try to do so with empathy.  Say something like, “I know how much this means to the business, and I wish were able to approve this.”  Be sure to explain yourself, as people are much more likely to accept the denial if they understand the law or risks involved which lead you to your decision.

5.      Humanize Yourself with the Business

Sometimes compliance professionals get so busy doing their job that they forget to connect to the business on a human level.  Simple things like talking about your pets, children, hobbies or the weather can go a long way to helping people to relate to you.  People tend to like those they perceive to be similar to themselves.  Compliance can seem diametrically opposed to sales or strategy, so the more able you are to align yourself with the sales team or strategy leaders by showing places where you have commonality, the more likely people are to begin to like and respect you.  Showing vulnerability and smiling can also make people more likely to talk to you socially.  The more you connect to people on a human level, the more likely they are to seek your advice and to trust you.

Becoming a wildly effective compliance officer is all about using influence, persuasion and motivation to connect to the business on an emotional level.  When you’re able to connect emotionally, you become an in-demand business asset who is able to move the company and the compliance program to a whole new level.

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Kristy Grant-Hart the author of the book “How to be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.”  She is Managing Director of Spark Compliance Consulting and is an adjunct professor at Delaware Law School, Widener University, teaching Global Compliance and Ethics.  Before launching Spark Compliance, Ms. Grant-Hart was the Chief Compliance Officer at United International Pictures, the joint distribution company for Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures in 65+ countries. She can be found at www.ComplianceKristy.com and emailed at KristyGH@SparkCompliance.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. Many good points. Thanks for sharing. I realize that the idea/term/phrase Compliance 2.0 is the “latest” catch phrase that some folks are using to refer to the continuously developing profession of the Compliance Officer, I get that.

    I also realize that there are folks who like to try to differentiate themselves from the pack by stating that there is an 8th compliance program element, a 9th element…and so on. I get that, too.

    So why I do like these posts and the ideas they generate, though truth be told they don’t seem to generate much blog discussions, they bring me back to the idea that to be an effective compliance officer, on any level, in my opinion there needs to be a foundation on which to build upon.

    So to me, before one can become “wildly effective”, I believe one has to achieve and move forward in at least becoming “mildly” effective.

    How does one become mildly effective? A very good question…to which I hope some of the blog posts help highlight what some compliance professionals have done to achieve that level of success.

    Many thanks again for this discussion launching (at least we can hope)…postings.

  2. Hi Frank. I definitely hear your point. I think Donna Boehme’s idea of “Compliance 2.0” reflects the progression of the profession from where it was even a few years ago to where it is now. However, where it is now is different from company to company, industry to industry, and country to country. I’ve been in charge of creating compliance programs in many places, and there can be a big difference depending on the maturity of the industry and the regulations within a country.

    I think we all start out as mildly effective when we begin knowing something about the rules and regulations that govern our business, and then start to try to apply them in the form of policies and procedures that will work. I think to become “wildly effective” you add in the persuasion and influencing elements to try to connect to the business emotionally. Thanks so much for reading the article!

    • And thanks X 2 to you for offering your article.

      I am a big Donna Boehme fan…but shhhhhh…I like to keep that a secret!

  3. Great article! I have really worked hard to do much of what you stated in this article. I have spent a lot of time getting in front of staff so they get to know me as a person and make that emotional connection. Then the trust can be built and staff are more in tune with what “Compliance” really means. Also they are more accepting of my opinions when they may not really like what I say.

  4. Kristy, this is a great post.

    For those entering the profession, I believe “mildly effective” begins with #1 which is understanding the role. Although descriptions may very from organization to organization and industry to industry, overall the role is the same which is to protect the business for the long run. I believe a quick transition or simultaneously applying #5 is the next step for new compliance professionals. For organizations with an under-developed compliance program, new professionals may have to gradually establish rapport to obtain awareness of issues that the business may not feel comfortable presenting in the beginning.

    To Frank’s point, I believe to become “wildly effective” requires the ongoing exercise of “humanizing yourself with the business”. Each new encounter whether it is 1-on-1 or a group training session requires “humanizing yourself”. Without achieving trust from the business, shared information may be limited or skewed and in the long term, this is not good for anyone.

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