You know a successful Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer when you meet one. You can see it in the way they carry themselves, the way they speak and the way they interact with people in the company.
A successful CECO is a positive person, one who commands respect, and who exercises careful judgment. More importantly, a successful CECO is a leader, not a business leader, but one who can motivate people and who recognize the importance of the company’s business.
There are five important traits for a successful CECO.
1. Interpersonal Skills – A successful CECO has excellent interpersonal skills. They do not have a temper and can be very patient but when necessary they are firm. The ability to get along with others is paramount.
A CECO has to work well with others because they need the help of the legal department, information technology, human resources, security, procurement/vendor management, controller, internal audit and chief financial officer. Compliance requires coordination and cooperation among these distinct functions. A CECO has to bring these elements together through the force of his/her personality and respond to other officials’ interests.
2. Compliance and Ethics Vision – It is important for a successful CECO to maintain focus and not get lost in unimportant details. The compliance function generates a substantial amount of information and data — some of it is important and some is not so important. A successful CECO has to be able to define a vision for an effective ethcis and compliance program. That vision has to be communicated to the board and senior management. A CECO has to be able to persuade constituencies within the company to contribute to the vision and to bring about a successful program.
3. Communications – A successful CECO must be willing to speak, write and communicate as often as he or she can about the importance of ethics and compliance and the tasks that need to be completed. The CECO must seek out and create opportunities to communicate. It is not enough to conduct in-person training programs – more has to be done. Internal communication is akin to public relations – how to inform and influence the audience to act. It is a marketing program and requires consistent and careful communications.
4. Ability to Make Tough Decisions – A CECO cannot rely on giving in or folding his or her position to the supposed greater good. A company always will be dominated by financial and business concerns. That is not a surprise. The difficult issue for a CECO is to identify those situations where ethics and compliance interests may be forced to supersede financial interests. Take for example, the GM debacle, where business and litigation risks and interests ran roughshod over all considerations of doing the right thing or adhering to some concept of ethics. If a CECO was aware of the situation, the CECO could not succumb to business interests but would have to stand up to those interests and raise the concerns with senior management, and, if necessary with the board of directors.
5. The Skill of Listening – A successful professional, whether a CEO, general counsel, CEO or other senior manager, has to be able to listen. I do not mean in a mechanical sense but the ability to hear what people say, empathize with their concerns, and respond to the issues. So many people we meet in our professional lives love to hear themselves talk, without regard to whether or not people are listening, and they ignore how people respond and what they may say. A successful CECO has the ability to listen, can empathize and will use their skills to solve problems, and to persuade people as to the efficacy of the proposed solution. They are, at bottom, consensus builders.