Six Motivating Reasons That Tend Not to Work with Compliance


By Luis Avila
Leadership Professional in Ethics and Compliance, CCEP

This article looks at the six motivating reasons that tend not to work with Compliance; there are others, but those set out below are the most frequent.

Some days ago, I made use of a business trip to get some time to myself – something that’s difficult to come by these days – in a place where I could ponder the origins of the universe. I wasn’t alone for long, because my natural tendency to socialise led me to strike up a conversation with three people in the same bar (what better place to reflect?).

Before very long we found ourselves discussing the reasons that had led us to be there. I told them what I did for a living and this opened up a whole area of doubts and criticisms regarding compliance, its goals and the “truth” about why compliance exists in organisations.

My companions worked for large corporations and I immediately sensed they did not believe in the claims of compliance.

The creation of an ethical culture in organisations is an impossibility because quite simply it runs counter to the strategy of business growth and is purely cosmetic. Compliance is what bosses use to make their underlings’ lives miserable and make themselves look good.

This effectively sums up a couple of hours’ discussion with three strangers.

I walked back to my hotel – the best moment of solitude of the day – and thought about the reasons these people had given me. They didn’t perturb me, because they were the same that I had put to myself for years, but I felt compelled to examine and combat them, as if I had to refute them in order to convince myself and continue my work with my clients.

What is it that tends not to work with Compliance?

Are the organisations that set out to create a compliance management system making a mistake? Are they wasting their time and money?

What are the motivations that lead directors and executives to push for compliance?

Are these reasons sufficiently solid and strong to ensure that their efforts endure over the long term and do not end up being sterile?

1. It’s a requirement imposed by my organisation. It’s one of my goals.


This either results from the fact that the organisation – hierarchically above whoever decided to initiate the process – has explained the purpose of compliance extremely badly or it’s a consequence of the organisation itself not believing in it.

Either way it doesn’t work. It’s not a motivating reason because sooner or later they’ll stop putting pressure on you with your compliance goals and then you’ll do nothing.

2. I do it to protect myself.


It’s true that knowing the risks of compliance to avoid sanctions and problems, and with it the loss of your own job, provides a powerful reason, but it is not sufficient because those in senior management positions will always have someone lower down to pin the blame on.

The will to pursue this path will always be subject to one’s own sense of security: only the minimal resources needed to provide tranquillity will be allocated, but our own personal tranquillity, not the organisation’s. We will apply the rule of the lowest common denominator and, what’s worse, we’ll concentrate our efforts on ensuring just our own backyard is “clean” – not the entire property that we inhabit.

3. Customers are starting to insist that we show our commitment to compliance.


Our corporate clients are not the only ones who matter. Society matters, our employees matter, consumers matter, the future of our company matters, even in the knowledge that our professional career may not end there.

Simply complying with what customers ask is easy. Getting someone to certify that you comply. Few will audit you. Sign whatever’s necessary. It’s a matter of doing business. Go for it…

4. The regulations require it and the regulators audit me.


The regulations require no more than that you abide by them. Nobody requires you – except in certain countries and in specific industries and businesses – to maintain a compliance management or infraction prevention system. If this is your reason it’s better that you do nothing, stop worrying, and restrict yourself to asking your employees to abide by the law. Anyway… the regulators are sometimes very strict and they also make mistakes, and to combat this you have legal teams who know all the tricks.

The experts will make sure any court case gets bogged down for years and when your organisation is convicted or fined nobody will remember why it’s being sanctioned and with any luck, you’ll be in a different job with a better salary than your current one.

5. It’s handy for exposing internal fraud and people who show little commitment to the organisation.


You don’t need a compliance system. Surround yourself with a group of informers, conduct counterintelligence within your own organisation, create a culture of fear, sack suspects, carry out surprise audits, trust only those who show they are committed to your rules.

If you take this route you will probably, although not certainly, prevent your organisation from “emerging in the papers”, but you will not ensure that the people who work with you feel motivated because they trust in the organisation.

6. I’ll award myself a medal. I’ll add it to my CV.


You’ll take it as a personal goal and oblige your colleagues to do things that are not urgent or essential in order to look good before partners or bosses. As long as you’re not thinking about the organisation, your effort will depend on your compensation and when you think that you’ve achieved your goal, you’ll stop pushing for attainment. Nobody will follow your lead and, what’s worse, when you leave there’ll be backsliding because someone will think that your emphasis on it was false.

These are six motivating reasons that do not tend to work with Compliance. On another occasion, I will suggest some motivating reasons that do work. But this is easy, because you only need to invert the ones listed above. You can do it yourselves.


  1. Luis, have you read Kristy Grant-Hart’s book “How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer”? I ask because some of your assessments seem to go against her theory of the Four Primary Motivators: Fear for Self, Fear for the Business, Noble Cause, and Competitive Advantage. You said you could just “invert” the ideas above, but I’m not sure I follow how you’d do that with some of your 6 Reasons, like #6 for example. Can you expand? Or is your next article with your ideas to combat these issues already published (and can you link me, if so)?

  2. The six motivated reason does not always apply. I have experience in department Human Services office the HSC is completing applications for relatives and family members not all documentation is correct. This provide information who has the customer information for a PHI

Comments are closed.