Whiners, Apologists, and the Truth

Truth title on old grunge torn paper

Whiners, Apologists, and the Truth

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

This topic really has me frustrated. I understand that the problem I am discussing is not a problem for every organization and doesn’t apply to all of you.  But the problem occurs often enough in our profession to be worrisome.  And it eventually will go from worrisome to terrifying if this problem grows rather than shrinks.

There is an increasing tendency for some people to become so politically correct that they are now making bad decisions. Some people feel that the best way to make change is to do nothing more than complain. There are an abundance of whiners and a growing number of apologists in our culture.  This drift in our culture could affect the compliance profession.  Compliance officers implementing compliance programs receive criticism because we are doing something about ethical and regulatory problems. Our profession was created because those who came before us did nothing, like Penn State University, Enron, and many others. People did nothing in the past because if they did something, they would receive criticism by standing up to those who wanted to do wrong. Our profession was created to do something about ethical and regulatory problems, we are doing something about it, and we are receiving criticism occasionally.  We are receiving the same criticism that caused those who came before us to burying their head in the sand.  It would be ironic if our profession did what those did who came before us, the same thing that caused society to insist our profession be created in the first place.  It would also be tragic.

And now, because of the growing culture of political correctness and propensity to apologize, some people apologize for the things that are necessary to implement an effective compliance program. For example, some people who do nothing but complain, and refused to put a shoulder to the wheel… call compliance and ethics officers cops. Then some people in our profession, under pressure and already weakened by the politically correct apologetic culture, spend a great deal of time trying to get people to like the compliance department. It sounds like a good plan, but instead of preventing, finding, and fixing problems, they are running around apologizing and doing things to be liked. Trying to get people to like you and the compliance and ethics program does very little to prevent, find, and fix problems.  Educating, auditing, investigating, etc. helps prevent, find, and fix problems. Apologizing doesn’t find and fix problems.  That’s what the people who came before us did.  It did not work.

The alternative I propose is to tell people the truth. “Of course we are not cops, but I’m not going to spend the majority of my day trying to make you like me, or our compliance and ethics efforts.  I am going to spend my day preventing, finding, and fixing problems so our organization doesn’t end up on the front page of the newspaper and with financially crippling penalties. Some of the things that I have to do to accomplish that goal will be uncomfortable. I have to educate, which will take some of your time. I have to audit, and that is going to cause you to think I am questioning you. I may have to occasionally investigate you, and that could make you uncomfortable.  If I don’t do any of this, we will end up like the many other companies that have a terrible culture, and crippling fines and penalties.  I am not going to apologize for doing the right thing, but rather I am going tell you the truth and help you understand.  The people who you should be frustrated with are the apologists who came before me and hurt our culture and put us at financial risk.”

Do not apologize.  Do not change to appease people who just complain and don’t help to fix the problem.  Be kind. Be nice. Be empathetic. Be fair. Be understanding.  Listen to others. Be mature and as charming as you can be.  Improve every chance you get.  But do not apologize for the difficult things that must be done to root out those who would hurt your culture or your organization’s financial strength.  Do not apologize for doing the things the apologists refused to do in the past that collectively help ruin the reputation of business leaders and the business community.  Instead of apologizing, I suggest you simply do your best to be civil, understanding, and tell people the truth about what we need to do to successfully implement a compliance and ethics program.  I suggest rather than turning the other cheek, or apologizing, you look people in the eye and tell them the benefits of an ethical culture and the advantages of preventing regulatory wrong doing.  Tell them the truth.

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  1. Roy,

    I’ll break it down even further, with the same premise that you mentioned that this may not apply to all, what you describe even makes it way down into the ranks of compliance professionals. I am sure that there are some people that will immediately ask me to walk the plank rather than dare say that compliance professionals don’t have their own share of whiners and apologists within our own ranks.

    However, they do exist, because like others I deal with them often. My best example comes from a situations not too long ago (place, names, dates purposely withheld) where a compliance professional was asked to conduct an audit to look into a particular situation. The compliance professional proceeded to call a meeting with the committee on an ad hoc basis, provided for in the charter, and go on what can only be called a rant on how this request was unreasonable. The person went on how overworked they were, they had no staff, and had no time to spare. This person was hoping to get buy in and support from the compliance committee to have Administration reconsider the request for the audit.

    As an ex oficio member of the committee I asked for some of the specifics of the audit and shared with the committee that such an audit would take basically less than a half hour to do and be done with it.

    So essentially this person took over an hour in organizing the meeting, the meeting lasted almost an hour, other people’s time was also diverted to something that was arguably less than an efficent use of their day…and this could have been dealt with more positively in a fraction of the time.

    I am not sure where I read it and I may have read it in more than one place but it goes along the lines of, “There is always time to do the right thing.”

    In some instances, as you also described, whining and apologizing about needing to do what is necessary is probably not a good choice.

    Of course there will always be “someone” who whines so be prepared to ask them if they would like some cheese and crackers to go along with that whine.

  2. All kinds of persons are found in every profession, society and community. However, I see this article more about being straightforward and forthcoming in doing one’s job rather than being apologetic. A Compliance professional’s job is such that not everyone would be happy with!

  3. First, you need to provide your personal definition of “political correctness”. I’ll assume for now that you don’t mean you want to treat people like dirt because they don’t look like/talk like/live like you do.
    Second, I didn’t see examples of “apologist culture” in your rant. Nor can I tell what you mean by it.
    Third, who cares if some people call us “cops”. We’re here to protect our organizations. If some of us can’t handle being called “cops” in a less than nice way, some of us are in the wrong profession and need to grow a thicker skin.
    Finally, some of what you talk about is not related to what compliance staff can do, but to the organizational culture and can be changed by the tone at the top. We can try to influence that, but ultimately we are not responsible for it. If we don’t like it and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon, we are free to work elsewhere.
    With this pointless, fairly political rant, you’ve lost all credibility with me and I will no longer pay attention to what you have to say.

  4. Roy, a few folks in my organization are in a book club and we are currently studying “The Speed of Trust” by Steven M. R. Covey. Speaking the truth and remaining congruent with the truth and our values are at the heart of your message today. Thank you for your post. I will be sharing it with my group.

  5. I am offended by the name dropping of Penn State University in your piece. I have spent nearly 30 years at this university, teaching and studying organizational ethics and I know something about its ethical culture. I have also studied the Jerry Sandusky scandal in great detail for several years (as I suspect you have not done). Much ambiguity remains about who in the organization knew what and when, ambiguity that is lost on many pundits, including you. I’m not asking you to be politically correct (whatever that means), but I do ask that you take more care to check your facts. I’d be glad to fill you in if you’re interested.
    Linda Trevino, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics, Smeal College of Business, Penn State.

  6. Thanks for your comments Frank and Asad. Marie what I meant by political correctness is that I think people should feel free to speak up and say what they believe without being attacked and I agree with you that we all need to be respectful to others. Deborah thanks for the kind words. Linda I have studied the Sandysky case for many years. We have looked at the same information and just come to a different conclusion. You have spent years helping others. You have devoted a great deal of time to help people understand ethics and become more ethical. We disagree but I appreciate your work and the work of others who have helped many people improve.

  7. This post did its job: sparked attention; provoking thought. It immediately resonated with me. Although I am not repulsive, (or so I like to think) many do have a knee jerk reaction to compliance and ethics truth. To say we need to get thicker skin isn’t the deepest answer, but is merely another knee jerk reaction. We actually need thinner skin: courage to be vulnerable. Ethics and self-righteousness are not synonymous. It is natural to want to be liked. However, our desire and commitment for truth must trump the desire for affiliation when necessary. That is where our humility becomes bravery. Arguments for the truth must be maintained. As C.S. Lewis said, “Courage, dear heart.”

  8. This is very true!!! Way too much time is being spent trying to make people like the Compliance function at the expense of doing what is supposed to be done. In as much as we are partners to the business we cannot allow ourselves to be enablers for wrong behaviours all for the sake of fitting in!

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