On this day, 53 years ago the CBS television network premiered one of my favorite TV shows of all time – Route 66. The program had a simple premise, it followed two young men, Buz Murdock and Tod Stiles, as they drove across the country in an inherited Corvette (Chevrolet was one of the show’s sponsors), doing odd jobs and looking for adventure. According to the show’s creator and writer, Stirling Silliphant, Buz and Tod were really on a journey in search of themselves. “Call “Route 66” “Pilgrim’s Progress”” once Silliphant told a reporter. “The motive power driving our two characters is not a Corvette: it is the desire for knowledge–and for sentience; it is a quest through the perennially fascinating cosmos of personal identity.”
I thought about the message of Route 66 as a continuous quest, when I wrote about the use of financial controls as a key part of your anti-corruption program under such laws that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. In listening to the talk by Stephen Arbogast, Executive Professor at the University of Houston, Bauer College of Business, Department of Finance, I saw, once again, that compliance is more than a set of steps but is truly a continuous process that, once implemented, takes each step in the process and builds upon another until it becomes an ongoing practice.
I have read that former Department of Justice (DOJ) official Lanny Breuer said that a FCPA compliance program should be a continuous process; further that your compliance regime should be a living, breathing practice going forward. By doing so, your business will be able to adapt to meet changing markets, circumstances and outside forces so that you can do business not only in compliance with the FCPA but also in a smarter, better and more efficient manner. I thought about these ideas when I read this week’s Corner Office column in the New York Times (NYT) by Adam Bryant, who this week interviewed Lars Albright, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SessionM a mobile advertising platform.
Albright discussed a couple of concepts which I thought resonated strongly with this concept of a continuous compliance cycle. The first was that although a company culture may start at the top, it certainly does not end there. Indeed, Albright took it a step further by stating, “A big thing I talk about at SessionM is that I don’t let the company off the hook when it comes to creating culture. Because at a small company — we have 55 people now — it’s not about a C.E.O. telling you what the culture is. It has to be about the company creating the culture and living the culture and embodying it. So I actually say at all company meetings, “Look, this is a rare opportunity in your career to create a company culture and be a core part of it, because I’m not going to sit up here and just tell you what it is.” So I’ve really tasked our company to help create the culture very overtly.”
To facilitate this concept, SessionM has a concept called “SessionM PACT” which Albright said “is less about our values and more about the way we want people to work. When you join this company, you agree to this PACT, which stands for purpose, accountability, commitment and teamwork. There’s not a meeting that goes by when I don’t mention the PACT. And we have a quarterly award that we give to an employee who truly embodies that way of working.”
The second concept that Albright discussed is what he termed the “I need syndrome”. He defined this as the situation where employees will say “I need this or I need that” but these employees are not thinking about the need to employ. Albright’s key in such a situation is to “push the conversation through to what’s going to solve the problem.”
All of the above reinforced to me that many times a compliance program is viewed as a set of burdensome rules and procedures and is designed to constrain how a person does business; the reality is that an effective compliance program is essential to the long-term success of any organization. Just as Albright believes that a CEO should not tell employees what their company culture is, an effective compliance program can help to promote a culture of honesty, so that employees do not cheat in doing business and do not steal from the company. An effective compliance program can help to provide information and data integrity so that reporting up the chain provides accurate information about what is really happening, not what people want the higher-ups to believe. This allows a company to respond to new or different compliance risks more efficiently. Finally, an effective compliance program assists not only with effective risk management but also helps to identify risks and develop procedures to manage those risks.
Carol Switzer and the Open Compliance and Ethics Group (OCEG) have put out a series diagramming the cycles of various issues in the compliance context. If you think about your compliance program is more of a continuous process you may come to realize that the journey of self-exploration engaged in by Buz and Tod in Route 66 can point towards a way for you to consider your compliance program as continuous compliance.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2013