Using History to Create or Rebuild a Compliance Culture

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I have worked for and with a number of companies that may seem to have lost their compliance path and have become embroiled in a lengthy Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act investigation. They may need to try and change a culture that has slipped down a path that needs redirecting. I was, therefore, interested to read a recent article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) by John Seaman Jr and George David Smith, entitled “Your Company’s History As A Leadership Tool”, where the authors write about a different manner in which to change or modify culture, or what I call the “historical path.”

The authors begin by stating they believe that “For a leader who hopes to take an organization into the future, one of the most powerful tools may be a sophisticated understanding of its past.” To accomplish this, the authors advocate thinking like a historian because they believe that if you do not know where you have been, it is difficult to know where you are going. By this they mean that you should base any serious decision on facts. Next, you must be willing to treat facts “with intellectual integrity – viewing them with an open mind and a willingness to be surprised.” The authors recognize that many CEO’s are faced with great pressure regarding “quarterly earnings reports and the need to react to one crisis (real or perceived) after another,” yet they believe that the best leaders have “a long range perspective on the companies they manage.”

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