Many commentators such as Donna Boehme and Mike Volkov often talk about what is required for the position of Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), both in terms of corporate support and skills as a leader of a company’s compliance function. But in many ways a CCO can be seen as a collaborator because so much of the job is working with and interfacing with various functions within a business. I thought about that concept when I read an article in the Corner Office section of the New York Times (NYT) entitled “Titles Don’t Matter. Teamwork Does.” by Adam Bryant where he interviewed and profiled Girish Navani, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of eClinincalWorks, a provider of clinical information systems.
I found Navani’s leadership style focusing on collaboration to be a good model for a CCO or compliance practitioner because what the compliance function needs to bring is a partnership to help the business and other units do business in compliance with the relevant legal and regulatory scheme. In the world of anti-bribery and anti-corruption that means compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act and similar laws. Navani said that his leadership style is to be as open as possible. One of the techniques that he uses is to have an oval table for meetings. No doubt channeling his inner King Arthur (or perhaps Richard Harris playing King Arthur), the configuration of the table actually seems to facilitate conversation and learning.
Another interesting insight was that Navani structures his company around teams. I thought this could be something that the compliance function could use in its dealings with business units because compliance is really a partnership with the business units and compliance spans multiple functions within any company. I also found another leadership insight from Navani’s leadership style. Navani said he continues “to learn every day. Leadership to me is many different qualities. Some are very basic. You’ve go to be approachable, humble and hard-working. Then there are ones regarding how you treat people. I listen more now. Before, I’d speak all the time. I will still do a lot of talking in meetings, but I absorb others opinions more. And I’m completely open to being told “no”. Questioning my own decision-making with others in the room is fine.”
I found that last point quite useful to consider. Coming out of the legal department and into compliance, I did not always take kindly to being told ‘no’ by someone from the business unit. I thought every pushback was some type of pressure test looking for weakness or tension. However, Navani’s style brings up the useful reminder that often the business function can assist compliance in learning how to perform the function more quickly or more efficiently. Certainly the business can assist the compliance function in understanding the highest risks that a company should focus on managing. In such a partnership role, compliance and the business unit can compliment each other to stop wasting time on immaterial risks so that resources can be delivered to the company’s highest risks.
Navani also stressed accountability. At his company “You’ve got to be accountable to yourself first, and you’ve got to be accountable to your team.” This certainly has application to the compliance function as well. One of the battles that compliance can fight is to be ‘The Land of No’ and the CCO is the head of it, or ‘Dr. No’. However by stressing accountability and creating transparency in the compliance process, I believe that a CCO can go a long way towards ameliorating that misperception.
I also found Navani’s techniques for hiring instructive for compliance. He said, “I look for the heart first. I don’t ask for direct experience.” He expects a modicum of professional expertise by the questions he asks most often are “Do you want to win? What drives you every day? Why health care IT? Can you spend 10 years of your career here? What do you want to do in those 10 years?” Navani went on to say that if he received satisfactory responses to those queries the technical aspects of a position can be taught. But he strives to see if a candidate’s heart is in the right place.
In addition to using these questions to ferret out candidates who will not work with his company, Navani uses these questions to set both a tone and expectation. The message he sends is “We’re not going to stifle you. If you can think out of the box, you will.” Navani believes that by hiring such employees they have the opportunity to become game changers at his company. Now imagine if you could have your Human Resource function use the hiring process to ask questions around attitudes around business ethics or other compliance issues. It would have the dual effect of allowing your company to have a front line inquiry that might weed out those who might be prone to cutting corners through bribery and corruption. But equally important would be the expectation set on the high value your company has on compliance and business ethics. The message would begin pre-hire, set again during employee orientation training and continued throughout the employment tenure.
Through migrating some of these leadership techniques that Navani espoused into your compliance tool-kit; a CCO or compliance professional can help to shift a company’s conversation around compliance. You can move from simply being seen as a safety backstop to one of developing and implementing solutions. Some of the other insights that I drew from Navani include setting out your core function of compliance. A compliance function should be able to offer expertise and insight into solutions. One part of that may be delivering data and other information to the business function to help them make better economic decisions for the company. But another way might be through compliance coaching advocacy.
Navani’s leadership once again demonstrates that if your compliance function shows integrity and responsibility, it can lead to greater teamwork between departments. Many business units fear that the compliance function will take away control of the business process from them. However by demonstrating that compliance is really in partnership, this can move a long way to alleviating this concern.
And do not forget the Round Table.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014