We held our annual Client Advisory Council (CAC) last week in Atlanta. It is my favorite event of the year. I get to spend two days talking with a group of our clients about all kinds of ethics and compliance topics. We discuss how they see the state of ethics and compliance in general, what they view as their top compliance training challenges, how they are marketing compliance to their employees, the latest on investigation best practices… and then, of course, we get to enjoy some great food and wine. I’m always pinching myself; I have such a great job.
One theme that seemed to carry through several of the conversations, panel discussions and presentations was that of change. Change can be hard to manage in all organizational functions but it’s particularly difficult in ethics and compliance in many respects: keeping up with regulatory change, managing organizational change, cultural change and change in leadership, which can result in a change in tone from the top. Managing an ethics and compliance program is tough enough without the constant threat of change hanging over your head.
One of our clients is a former Marine. He said in the Marines they had a way of speaking about change, which I will attempt to paraphrase here, though I’m sure I won’t sound as elegant as he did. “Change is like a dragon. You can’t get try to get in front of it or it will burn you. You can’t try to run from it or it will chase you down. But you can try to jump on top of it and harness it… so it’s best to face it head on.”
I found that analogy so apropos; I knew immediately it would appear in my next blog! But seriously, it’s so perfect for compliance. I can see how it’s tempting to try to either work around change or try to stand in front of it and head it off, but either way, the dragon will get you.
There are parts of business that always change. Being in Marketing, I have to shift priorities often to accommodate product updates or changes in the marketplace. Certainly there are some aspects of ethics and compliance that will always change; regulations, management, people, business risk. There are fluid aspects of any business that will continually evolve; the ethics and compliance program must always accommodate those changes. However, if you get the right fundamentals in place, you will have one less thing to worry about when the winds of change start blowing.
Fundamental 1: Compliance Training System
What are those fundamentals? Compliance training comes to mind. I spoke with several clients about this at the CAC. Finding the right compliance training is so important. You’ve heard me preach about boring training before and I’ll do it again; boring training is dangerous because employees forget the content. The right compliance training is memorable, understandable and engaging. One client told me that she’s struggling to get her leadership to understand that the old video-based compliance training with the ‘80s look they are STILL using, (her words “STILL using!”) is simply not having an impact with their employees. It’s just critical that they move to compliance training that is interactive so their employees will get the message.
Fundamental 2: Ethics and Compliance Policy Management Process
Another fundamental is the ethics and compliance policy management process. This may involve a policy management software system, but at least get the process down. Complete your Meta Policy, get all of your policies in a consistent template and an easy-to-read format. Store them in a centrally located, easy-to-access location and embed interactive compliance training exercises within them. Ensure you can prove what version was in effect at any given time and that you have an automated way to record disclosures and exception requests. Michael Rasmussen of GRC 20/20 Research gave a fantastic presentation on Policy Management benchmarking that I’m going to write about next week.
Fundamental 3: Code of Conduct
Your Code of Conduct is a fundamental and while it’s tempting to think “well, we did a Code, rolled it out and we’re done,” the Code is a living document. It should be refreshed regularly, not put up on a shelf. Your employees should receive Code of Conduct training – new employees as they enter your company and then as the Code is refreshed, all employees should be trained on the changes. Every Code refresh is another chance for your company to show employees that you’re committed to ethics and compliance.
Fundamental 4: Your Company Culture
And while I guess this falls into the category of things that could change, I would consider your company culture overall something fundamental that, while I agree it takes continuous effort, if you at least have it on the right track, and it’s getting the care and feeding it needs, that’s one less thing to worry about when you have to face all that change. Culture is not easy because it’s intangible. But it’s made up with tangible components. The Code, the compliance training, the tone from the top, every employee communication is an opportunity to shape your culture and to show that your company is committed to a culture that is ethical and compliant.
The CAC really was fantastic and we covered a lot of ground. I will post about it a few more times in the upcoming days. In the meantime, if you have any ideas on how ethics and compliance professionals can deal with change, I’d love to hear them, so please leave some comments.