Compliance Lessons from Circus Camp

Circus tent picture

Margaret ScavottoBy Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC
President, Management Performance Associates

Last week was Spring Break in my house. We didn’t have travel plans, so my kids went to Circus Camp and Ice Cream Camp at the local performing arts center. Almost as good as the beach.

Every evening after camp, my kids exuberantly regaled us stories of walking on the tightwire, using stilts, juggling, doing “super cool” trampoline jumps, and balancing peacock feathers on their foreheads. They also brought home ice cream, which was a big win for Mom.

On the last day of camp, we were invited to a 15-minute circus show, where we could see what the kids learned. During the show, my daughter waited patiently on the rainbow gym mat while her fellow plate spinners, stilt walkers, and jugglers performed – until it was her turn to walk the tightwire. The time I was most proud of her was not actually when she walked across the tightwire (although that was pretty neat). I was the proudest of her when she was sitting quietly on the sidelines while her friends performed, waiting her turn.

She’s six. That’s a big deal.

She’s a pint-sized ball of energy overflowing with excitement for her new skills – and she still understood that the circus isn’t a solo act. It only works if everyone waits their turn – allowing each individual their turn to shine.

Compliance isn’t a solo act either.

If you are thinking that linking “circus” and “compliance” is one analogy too far, hear me out.

Let’s say you are the Corporate Compliance Officer for a hospital. You have your CHC certification, you have years of experience, you are good at your job, and you are extremely dedicated to it. The hospital is lucky to have you.

You put together a list of the top 10 risks you want to audit this year, rank them by priority, and map out a 12-month plan to complete these audits. The list will keep your auditing department busy, and you feel comfortable that the organization is looking at the top concerns.


Do other leaders agree with your top 10? Do other decision makers think your top 10 align with their top 10? If not, and you spend resources auditing them and find a problem, you might struggle to get support for the corrective action if there is not consensus that it’s a priority.

Let’s say you put together a training plan for the next 12 months. It naturally includes compliance and HIPAA training for new employee orientation, plus annual training on those subjects. You also put together a monthly education campaign with a schedule of topics that will get promoted with tips, flashcards, and flyers. Think of how compliance awareness will grow!


Do managers agree with your 12 months of topics? Maybe you picked social media as a quarterly topic – do managers also see social media as a top concern? Have managers had a chance to weigh in on the areas where employees make mistakes or ask questions? Do these topics vary by department, building, or shift?

Compliance isn’t a solo act.

Compliance depends on committed compliance officers who tirelessly plan, strategize, and come up with new ideas. But our work cannot stop there. We also need to communicate, build relationships and gain trust – reach out, listen, obtain feedback, and secure buy-in. When we take that extra step, the goals and plans we painstakingly make for our organization’s compliance program are far more likely to succeed.

If the plate spinners had come out while a kindergartner was walking across the tightwire, chaos would have ensued, and nobody would sign up for Circus Camp next year. Buy-in would have been lost. Likewise, compliance officers who take their turn, and give others a chance to be heard, will steal the show.