Compliance Magic



turteltaub-adam-200x200-150x150By Adam Turteltaub

Penn and Teller are a pair of magicians who have taken their art form to a new level.  They do things which seem impossible, often while telling you exactly how they did it, which, ironically, makes their performance all the more mystifying.

In a recent interview with NPR they talked about their forty years together.  They revealed that when they first met they didn’t like each other.  And forty years later?  They still often don’t like each other.  They’re just very, very good at working together.

Teller, who is famous for never uttering a word onstage, eloquently explained why their relationship works:

The idea that you can respect someone without wanting to sit by a fire and snuggle with them is maybe not a very popular idea in show business, but it is a very true one. And what turns out to be more important in a long-term relationship is that you can do your job, and doing your job includes things like: Neither of us drinks, neither of us does any drugs, we are never late for gigs, we never miss gigs, we always show up — we always do our job.

It’s a surprising frank admission, and coming from someone who has built his career on flouting convention, it’s s surprisingly traditional argument for old-fashioned professionalism:  the idea that you should show up ready for work, do your job well, and, at the end of the day feel free to leave without the need to pal around with your colleagues.

Our ideas of how we should work together today are often quite different.  Workers expect their relationships with their colleagues and their supervisor to be much more than just a working one.  They expect it to be personal.  Usually that’s fine, but a huge percentage of calls to helplines are not over compliance issues but about relationships.  They are what a compliance officer I know refers to as “my boss doesn’t love me anymore” calls.

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At the same time, the idea that you have a work life and a personal life has eroded greatly, putting new pressure on the working relationship.  Part of this change is driven by the always-connected work culture.  Business is much less respectful of personal time and personal lives.

Part of the transformation is driven by changing attitudes about what is public and what is private.  Employees, especially younger ones, generally have less of a filter about what they will share publicly.  Colleagues are connected on Facebook and get to know each other in ways they never had before.  They know who had ten beers on Saturday and who hooked up the night before.  With it comes a host of compliance issues.

In many ways a compliance officer’s job is to remind people that, despite all these changes, professionalism counts.  We are there to help ensure people come to work unimpaired, do their job lawfully, ethically and without cutting corners, while allowing others to do their jobs without improper interference.

Maybe the magic of our profession, then, is that despite being in a new one, it is there to support the very old and worthwhile idea that we should all work like professionals.



  1. Like or not like, it sounds as though Teller is saying that the more two people fit together in terms of attributes, the more likely they will get along. A good rationale for finding that “organizational fit” with a prospective hire.

  2. The truth is more and more people are look for a social group to work with than a professional group of people. One of my first interviews several years ago was with a large company. I was interviewing for an administrative assistant or something to that effect. I really wanted to work for this company because they had some young people there that I could get to know. When I was asked why I wanted to work for the company I said something about a fun group of people. The interviewer told me he didn’t want to hire someone just for socializing he wanted to hire someone who was dedicated to doing a good job. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but I learned a valuable lesson. I wasn’t getting paid to socialize, I was getting paid to be a professional and get a job done. I think Teller explains that quit eloquently.

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