Compliance Bears


Post By: Adam Turteltaub

SCCE & HCCA CEO Gerry Zack taught me that there’s a live webcam at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska. You can watch brown bears feeding on migrating salmon.

It’s fascinating to watch (and very hard to stop watching). Some of the salmon have absolutely no sense of distance, jumping and landing long before they reach the falls. Others jump perfectly, only to end up in the mouth of a hungry bear.

As for the bears, they seem to deploy multiple strategies. Some stand on top of the falls to catch the fish midair as they try to fly by. Some stand near the bottom of the falls and dive their heads into the water to grab passing fish. Others stay further downstream away from the falls. And still others seem to plop themselves down and just sit there in the river. I can’t tell if they’re just digesting their latest belly full of salmon, or if there is some hunting method I have not yet figured out. I found a video that explains a bit more about the various strategies the bears use, if you want to learn more.

And the whole thing seems like a giant metaphor for compliance. The salmon jumping up by the falls are like potential issues. Many pop up but most fall way short of turning into a problem.

Some, though, do successfully make the leap over the falls, and in those cases, it’s the job of compliance teams to act like bears and try to grab them.

As for the bears, they demonstrate that there is more than one way to achieve a goal. Each method of hunting salmon has its plusses, and each has its disadvantages. Each also comes with challenges and requires patience

So, too, must compliance professionals employ different strategies to achieve a goal while weighing the costs and benefits.

Sometimes you need to just wait and problems will pop up. Other times you need to look underneath the surface. And sometimes you have to protect your territory. While the bears seem mostly to get along with each other (like compliance does with HR, legal and the business unit), there are times when a little bit of a growl is necessary.

Also necessary is patience. While the nature documentaries we’ve all seen shows the bears catching fish as fast as they possibly can, the live webcam shows a different reality.  There’s a lot of calm persistence required. That’s a trait compliance teams need as well.

Oh, and when you check out the webcam, there one more thing to note. You will see that there are a lot of people watching and weighing in with their opinions. They even seem to know each bear by name.

While your actions likely don’t come with the workforce live streaming your every move, just remember that, like the bears, you’re being watched and talked about.


  1. Brilliant analogy! One thing I struggle to teach leaders about is this: “Many pop up but most fall way short of turning into a problem.” Staying vigilant is key, but what may be even tougher is knowing when to be patient. Thanks for starting off the week with a great post!

  2. Adam, great analogy! I spent a few days at Katmai in the mid-1990’s and found a few more compliance analogies. In order to get to the platform overlooking Brooks Falls, you had to walk about a half mile from your cabin (unarmed, of course), repeatedly clapping loudly and hollering “Hey bear, yo bear!” (or whatever you wanted to say) to alert the bears to your presence so they would not be surprised. The walk was both slightly terrifying and also exhilarating (as is compliance sometimes!). None of the cabins had locks on the doors in case you had to make a beeline for the nearest one (open door policy!). I have a number of photos of a large bear repeatedly going after a smaller bear whenever the latter would catch any salmon (bullying and theft). Compliance analogies aside, it was an amazing experience – thanks for bringing back those memories!

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