Planning for 2021? Ten Top Tips for Getting it Right! (part 1)


Post By: Kristy Grant-Hart, Chief Executive Officer at Spark Compliance Consulting

Right now, many compliance officers are going before the Board, the C-suite, or their manager with their plans for 2021. Budgets must be approved, priorities determined, and roll-out schedules set. But how can we realistically plan for 2021? Our 2020 plans flew out the window last spring, with an unforeseen pandemic throwing the world’s economy into free-fall and sending workers out of their offices and into their living rooms.

2021 is arriving in a cloud of uncertainty. Though much insecurity exists, there are strategies you can use to keep your planning on-point for a successful year.  Following are six ideas to help with your program planning. In part 2, we’ll deal with three tips for your career planning and development.

No. 1: For Live Training and Meetings, Plan in the Alternative

By now everyone knows that Zoom meetings aren’t the same as being face-to-face, especially when it comes to in-person group training and meetings. While compliance officers long for in-person events, it is best to plan “in the alternative,” meaning that your plans should work regardless of whether they are in-person, via video conference, or a mix of both.

When you’re planning your training sessions and meetings, prioritize activities and training that can be interactive either in person, on video conference, or both. By planning early, you’ll avoid that last-minute struggle to shift gears.

No. 2: Take the Business’ Temperature for Compliance and Respond Accordingly

Right now, many people are suffering from profound fatigue. Enormous stress and headaches have been caused by virus fatigue, reduced budgets, scrambling late into the night to create new protocols, canceled conferences, and products/services that can no longer be sold because of pandemic restrictions. While compliance will always be important, 2021 may not be the year to try to put it at the top of the list – at least not early in the year.

When you talk with your leaders about the compliance program’s priorities for 2021, solicit feedback. Be open to shifting your plans to make them smaller, recognizing that the business may be straining to simply exist by year-end.

No. 3: Add in Time for Disruption

2020 wreaked havoc on the best-laid plans from 2019.  For 2021, plan for disruption. Keep your ambitions smaller than they would have been otherwise. You can always increase your activity if the disruption fails to appear. However, if you’ve planned without disruption in mind, you may appear to have failed or missed your goals by year-end. Plan for chaos.  If it doesn’t show up, you can be a hero by over-performing.

No. 4: Consider Culture when Only Some can Return

Western Europe and the United States are likely to push out vaccines to their citizens before the rest of the world.  Even then, higher-risk populations, like healthcare workers and the elderly, are more likely to get them first, leading to disparate populations with immunity.  Some of your company’s workers may get back to the office quickly, while others will almost certainly still be home-bound by the end of 2021.  Additionally, some workers may not be able to return even if they are immunized if their children are still learning from home or if they are taking care of a sick or at-risk relative.

Disparities of this kind may lead to a disrupted culture.  People who are back in the office may re-build bonds more quickly than those still working from home, which may lead to allegations of favoritism.  It’s important to focus on building a cohesive culture of support and equality throughout the company during the difficult transition back to a more normal working environment.  Whistleblower complaints of discrimination and retaliation are likely to rise, so be prepared with the resources you need.  More than anything, plan your communications to encourage a healthy culture of compliance and ethics, no matter where people in the company are working.

No. 5: Spend your 2020 Budget if You Can

Two of our clients have asked if they can pre-pay for their 2021 compliance program reviews. That’s because they already know that their budgets, along with every other department at their companies, will be reduced in 2021.  If you’ve got budget now, spend it.  Pre-pay for technology, consulting, legal assistance, ethics and compliance week schwag, or whatever else you’ll need for a successful 2021.

No. 6: Put What You Want in Your 2021 Budget

Even though many companies are cutting back, propose the budget that you need.  If you need new technology to manage your third-parties, ask for it.  If you need a professional risk assessment, leave that in the budget.  While these items may be cut, you’ll be setting yourself up for a more fruitful discussion for your 2022 budget.  The fact that something wasn’t approved in 2021 may be a forceful argument for why it should be approved in 2022.

People don’t like saying no, and repeated requests (made politely) are likely to eventually receive a yes.  It’s like when a child repeatedly asks for a toy or to have their ears pierced.  By the tenth time they’ve asked, it just feels easier to relent.  Use this to your advantage to set yourself up for success.

2021 will be a year of change, challenge, and opportunity.  By using these strategies now, you’ll ensure it is the best it can be.


  1. by practicing smart thinking, it leads to doing smart choices, keeping in mind the needs of your department above your own. this step will lead to succeed in your yearly planning.

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