Gettysburg Day 3 – Failure of QA/QC and the Evolution of Your Compliance Program

by Thomas Fox

Rebel ArtilleryToday is the 151st anniversary of Day 3 of the Battle of Gettysburg. Last year I focused on Pickett’s Charge and lessons that a compliance practitioner might draw from it. This year I want to look at the Confederate artillery bombardment, which preceded Pickett’s doomed attack. It was the largest of the Civil War with up to 170 Confederate guns opening fire on the Union center and approximately 80 Federal guns opening up to return fire. If you have seen the movie Gettysburg, you will remember the awesome cannonades and the young Confederate Artillery General Porter Alexander reporting to General Lee. At the time, it was reported that the barrage was so loud it could be heard as far away as Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The artillery barrage lasted just over one hour. The Confederate guns inflicted some damage on the Union batteries, but they largely overshot their targets. It was believed at the time that the reason the Confederate bombardment was ineffective was that Confederate artillerymen tended to aim high and missed their marks due to poor visibility from all the smoke on the battlefield.

However, a commentator named Captain Thorton, posting online in the American Civil War message board, had the following comments, “A week after the battle, Lt James Dinwiddie working for the Ordnance Dept. conducted tests on the various fuses supplied from around the Confederacy at the Richmond Laboratories. His findings showed that while those fuses manufactured in Charleston and Selma were made of exceptional quality, the rate of burn for those fuses was markedly less. In his findings compared with those fuses as previously supplied to the ANV from the Richmond arsenals it was found the fuses from Charleston and Selma burned at a rate of one second longer for the same length of fuse. The result of course was that those fuses in shells intended to explode over the Federal position at Gettysburg ranged anywhere from 150 to 200 yrds further to the rear before exploding. A 4 inch fuse would burn at the rate as one cut to 5 inches”. In other words, it was the quality in the supply chain, aka QA/QC.

I thought about this problem of quality and how it might relate to the compliance practitioner when I read a recent  article in the MIT Sloan Review of Management, entitled “What to Expect from a Corporate Lean Program”, by Torbjørn Netland and Karsa Ferdows. The focus of their articles was around ‘lean’ programs in the manufacturing sector and how “misplaced expectations of how quickly these programs can improve performance can make their implementation more difficult.” The key findings the authors made were threefold: (1) Management should set appropriate targets to move the process along; (2) There is a positive relationship between company or plant maturity in system implementation and its performance; and (3) Plants need to engage in continual assessment in where they are in the process.

Using the article as a basis for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, the effectiveness of a compliance system depends on two variables: (1) how widely the compliance system has been implemented in a company, and (2) how thoroughly the company follows its prescriptions. A typical production system has many modules. Typically, at the beginning of an implementation, only a few modules are launched, throughout the company. However as compliance implementation is expanded to other the areas the initial implementation continues to receive upgrades and enhancements. The combination of these two variables — how widely and how thoroughly the compliance system is implemented — reflects a company’s “maturity” in the implementation.

The authors believe this leads to competing arguments for how “maturity in an implementation should affect its performance. On the one hand, if a lean program is a journey of incremental but continuous improvement, we should expect to see a linear relationship between implementation and effect on performance. On the other hand, the “low-hanging fruits” argument suggests that as a plant becomes more mature in an implementation, there would be fewer simple and quick improvements. Therefore, the rate of performance improvement would slow down.”

From this the authors derive four stages of performance improvement, which I believe adapt directly for the CCO or compliance practitioner and in demonstrating how the roles evolve during the life-cycle of a compliance program implementation. 

Stage I – Beginner Compliance Programs

Step One can always be the most difficult but can lead to the greatest results. The difficulty is in bringing in something that people consider new. If you are initially implementing a compliance program there may be some initial resistance to new programs or requirements. But it also provides the greatest opportunity for growth in your compliance regime. So you should expect a low but gradual rate of improvement in the implementation of your compliance regime. As CCO or compliance practitioner you should expect to hold extensive meetings with both the key stakeholders in the business units, senior management and those employees deemed high risk under any anti-corruption regime such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. There should be a dedicated compliance team to drive and coach the program implementation going forward. The budget should set small, measurable targets for improvement and the metrics should be closely followed.

Stage II – In Transition Compliance Programs

When you start to look for ways to improve compliance you inevitably find many low-hanging fruits and simple projects with quick returns. They not only improve the performance of the unit but also convince those directly involved of the value of a production system. Here you can expect to seen improvements in your compliance regime at a high and increasing growth rate. Your role as the compliance practitioner should be threefold. First to set stretch targets and have an expected accelerated rate of improvement. Second, to publicize your compliance program successes throughout the organization. Finally, the authors suggest the need to be ever vigilant for complacency.

Stage III – Advanced Compliance Programs

Companies with advanced compliance programs generally have accumulated both knowledge or and experience with the compliance program. In such companies, the authors predict that there will still be a high rate of improvement but it will be a decreasing rate of growth. However, the low hanging fruit of easy compliance implementation and successes will have been achieved and as the CCO or compliance practitioner in charge you will need to continue to set stretch targets but you may well be faced with a decelerating rate of improvement throughout your organization. You may well need to move your budget to areas for continuous improvement projects such as transaction, third party or relationship monitoring. However, this may be tempered by the fact that you can move more of the ‘doing’ of compliance down into the business units as your program matures.

Stage IV – Gold Standard Compliance Programs

When your compliance program moves to one of the top in your industry it will be time to “move beyond the frontiers of your industry.” As the CCO or compliance practitioner, you can expect to see low rates of improvement and decreasing rates of growth in your overall compliance program improvement. However this does mean you can simply sit around on your hands, as staying at this level is not easy. One thing that will assist you is that there will be a larger pool of compliance talent for you to draw from throughout your organization to help you move to a continuous monitoring model of compliance. By this stage you should have good working relationships with most of the other support functions in your organization which will allow you to leverage upon their specific disciplines for your compliance initiatives going forward.

The authors end their article with something that is often said but bears repeating, that senior management must be committed to the implementation and you must establish a reliable process for measuring the gains you make and the maturity you have achieved. Moreover, the assessment process can be an effective mechanism to transfer best compliance practices and expertise across your organization.

In the aftermath of the Confederate failure at Gettysburg, testing was done on the fuses for Southern artillery shells. This testing showed the reason why the Confederate caissons had been largely ineffective on Day 3 of the battle. However, as your compliance program evolves, your role may well need to change in reference to it. Certainly the roles compliance teams and those in the company business units who assist in the compliance effort will need to be assessed and reviewed as your compliance program matures.


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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