Questions that Leadership Should Ask the Compliance Officer


Young confident businessman leaning on big question mark

2014-snell-roy-speaking-headshot-200By Roy Snell

Below are some questions leadership should ask the compliance officer and a suggestion about how to implement these questions in your organization.  You need to collaborate with leadership to pick a subset of the questions to implement.  Then over time you can add, edit and delete questions.

  • Is there anyone interfering with your ability to implement any of the elements of an effective compliance program?
  • Is there anyone interfering with your ability to prevent, find, or fix this organization’s legal, policy, or ethical issues?
  • Do you have any responsibilities outside of compliance and ethics that could cause you to have a conflict?
  • Do you report to anyone who has any responsibilities that could cause conflicts of interest for the compliance program?
  • Is anyone with a conflict of interest guiding or directing the compliance and ethics program?
  • Are there any issues that have been reported to you that are not being addressed?
  • Has any issue been outstanding beyond a reasonable amount of time?
  • Have we ever had an outside evaluation of our compliance and ethics program?
  • Are we staying abreast of current trends in enforcement and effective compliance program management?
  • Are there any areas where our compliance program lags industry best practices?
  • Are we anticipating any potential new legal risks in the near future?
  • Are there any substantive compliance issues currently under investigation?
  • What issues are the enforcement community currently reviewing/investigating in our industry and where do we stand on those issues?
  • How do you evaluate our organization’s ethical culture?
  • Is there anything that leadership can do to help further develop, maintain, or support the compliance and ethics program?
  • Is there any further compliance and ethics education that you think leadership should attend?
  • Do we need more compliance and ethics expertise on our governing body?
  • Do you have a good working relationship and independent access to internal and external legal counsel, consultants, and auditors?
  • Are you getting cooperation on compliance training, and what type of feedback are you getting from the training?
  • What are you most concerned about?
  • Do you feel that everyone in this organization feels comfortable reporting potential issues, and do they have a reasonable opportunity/mechanism to share their concerns about a policy, legal, or ethical infraction with you?

The governing body and leadership can engage in an effective dialogue with the compliance professional with some version of the suggested leadership questions. I would not try to do this all at once.  Once your organization develops this best practice, you can begin to add, delete and edit questions to make your list more robust.

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  1. A good start Roy! but it has to start with the Board. Until Boards truly understand the basics of a successful compliance program and their oversight role, we will see little progress. Michael Volkov and I wrote a piece for Boards here The problem is that what passes for Board training in compliance today is a one-time session with a $1000/hour fire breathing law firm partner who himself knows little about the important business of compliance. A wise CCO takes Board training in hand as part of its early engagement with the Board- and I have a list of 20 questions Boards should ask about their compliance pogram at the end of my chapter on Board engagement in the SCCE Manual. If the VW and GM Boards had understood their role properly, neither would have accepted their flawed compliance models that failed in bringing internal concerns about their emission testing cheating scheme (VW) and their delayed ignition switch recall (GM), respectively, to senior levels where they could have resolved the problems before being forced to do so by third parties. It’s encouraging to see that VW has mpw adopted a modern Compliance 2.0 model, having switched to a proven subject maiier expert (the former Daimler CCO) and positioned her as an independent, empowered manager with a seat on the Supervisory Board. Unfortunately, GM has not taken the same opportunity to upgrade from its failed model.
    Someday soon I hope we have achieved a world where our Boards get modern compliance training and CCOs and their compliance programs are positioned for success, with independent subject matter expertise, line of sight, seat at the table and resources to do the job well.. For that to happen, government gatekeepers like prosecutors, regulators snd policymakers all must get the memo, and we are sing signs of this now.(Next column!)

  2. Right on all counts Donna. Independence remains the key to success in a compliance program. Penn State University may have just made this point better than they had previously made it. It appears that they not only knew about the wrongdoing 10 years before it was dealt with, but it is possible they knew much sooner than that. Why did they not resolve their problem when it was discovered.. conflict of interest. So we implement compliance officers and compliance programs and have them report to people that have a conflict of interest??? It doesn’t work. It won’t work. It will never work.

  3. Sorry I just learned from my inbox that the going rate for fire-breathing law partners without compliance SME is $2K/hr. I guess that’s for twice the Bloviation.

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