Getting Employees To Care About A Compliance Policy

by Thomas Fox

Putting a compliance policy into practice is not something that most companies do very well. How do you get buy-in for a new or amended compliance policy? How do you determine if a new compliance policy contradicts anything that you currently have in your compliance policy portfolio?

When thinking about such questions regarding compliance policies I am reminded of four questions posed by Stephen Page, in his book “Achieving 100% Compliance Of Policies and Procedures”, wherein he poses the following questions: (1) What is the nature of the policies owner’s function? As these are compliance policies, they are critical to a company doing business in compliance with relevant anti-corruption/anti-bribery laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act. (2) What is your organization’s overall vision and mission? This question speaks to management’s commitment to doing business ethically and in compliance with legal requirements. (3) What is the content of the policies? This speaks to the connection of the policy goals with other incentives, such as compensation and promotion. (4) What is your company’s receptivity to the policy? This question speaks to training and communication so that employees will understand not only the underlying reason for the policy but drive adherence to the policy.

These and other questions were explored at the recently concluded Compliance Week 2013 event in a session entitled “Case Study: Putting Policies into Practice at Dell”. Kristi Kevern, Director of Operational Compliance and Page Motes, Director, Strategic Programs Office – Global Ethics & Compliance from Dell Corporation, were the two panelists for the event. Kristi discussed how Dell overhauled its entire compliance policy management program and I will discuss her remarks in a later blog. Motes does not come from a compliance background but came from business development. I found her perspective quite different from the usual compliance perspective. From where she sits, she recognizes the need to internally market a new compliance policy; however this marketing plan must begin at the inception of a compliance policy and not after it has been drafted.

Motes said that it is incumbent to obtain buy-in from the business units before a compliance policy is drafted because, after all, it is the business units which will implement a compliance policy. This begins with a business unit sponsor who should have ownership of any new compliance policy. After the initial draft is made, it should be circulated to make sure that the compliance policy is workable and that it is translated from legalese (or accounting-ese) or other technical jargon into plain English. She said that is one of her key roles.

The next step is the internal market. Here Motes believes that a key is to move away from words such as ‘ethics’ to words that denote behaviors. She said that her group would talk about trust, honesty, respect, judgment and responsibility. After rollout the compliance group must train on the new policy and then monitor to ensure that it is followed. Finally, there must be some consequences to an employee if they are trained but fail after multiple warnings to follow a policy.

I thought about Motes’ ideas when I read a recent article in the June issue of Fast Company magazine, entitled “Starbucks’s Leap of Faith” which discussed the company’s rollout and approach to innovation. One of the examples in the article was when Starbucks rolled out its mobile application to allow customers to pay through their smart phones. The company worked with staff on proto-types, then trained and followed up with interviews to determine how the new system was working. Recognizing that there were technical glitches to overcome, the company persevered. Ryan Records, Vice President of Payments, was quoted as saying “it became seamless and flawless and an elegant way to pay” and that payment method now accounts for roughly 10% of the company’s total pay each day.

The Starbucks story drove home to me the key message from Motes. You must work with the business units to operationalize any policy. While it is true that a compliance professional will be the subject matter expert on the requirements of what should go into a compliance policy, but it is equally important on how that information is imparted and getting employees to care about the policy. Page puts it in a slightly different light. He said “From a systems viewpoint, it is often the organization’s infrastructure, and not its people, which is rigid and inflexible, often leading to angry and frustrated employees. If people cannot approach problems, talk openly, or give opinions, then this prevailing attitude can cause withdrawal and people who do not care. The clearer the tie between what an organization is doing and the results, the more energy, commitment, and excitement they will generate during a change process.” I think the latter sentence is what you need to strive for in the realm of compliance policies.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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