The roles of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) can be many and varied but one role of any successful CCO is that of Chief Persuasion Officer (CPO). I say this because it is often the case that the most a CCO has in his or her arsenal is the ability to persuade. While there may be times that the CCO can veto something outright, it may not only be difficult but also risk long-developed corporate political capital that might be best used at another time or in another arena. I thought about this concept of persuasion and how even the smallest gesture can pay great dividends when I read the New York Times (NYT) obituary of George Shuba. Shuba was a little known outfielder from the old Brooklyn dodgers who had a decent seven-year professional career with the team. He played on the losing side in two World Series in 1952 and 1953 but was with the Dodgers for their only win over the Yankees in the World Series of 1955.
However, Shuba is remembered for one dramatic gesture. In 1946, both he and Jackie Robinson were playing for the Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals. In the first professional game that Robinson played when he was the first African-American to break the color line; Robinson hit a home run in the third inning. Shuba was on deck and went to the plate to shake Robinson’s hand. A photographer was on hand to snap a picture and when that photo went out over the wire services it was viewed as a gesture of racial tolerance. While there would be many opposite events for Robinson when he finally made it up to the major leagues, that one picture made a difference. Shuba’s comment on the 60th anniversary of the handshake, “I couldn’t care less if Jackie was Technicolor.”
Such small gestures can make a difference. I recently read a book review in the New York Review of Books, for a biography of Dale Carnegie by Steven Watts, entitled “Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America”, penned by Ian Frazier. Carnegie is of course well known for his seminal work “How to Win Friends and Influence People” first published in 1936. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the text was largely drawn up as transcripts to lectures Carnegie was giving in New York City in the mid-1903s. Carnegie’s main thesis was to provide concrete steps on how ordinary people could help master the art of persuasion. While it has been some time since I read this book, what I recall is that to influence people, one has to listen to them. So for me, the book was about how to become a better listener.
I cannot say enough about this skill for a CCO. If you hear any long-term CCO speak about their job, they will tell you it is largely about listening to people; whether those people are employees, senior management or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board members. By listening to others you not only hear, and hopefully will come to understand their concerns, but you allow them to come to decisions themselves and you are not in the position of telling them what to do. It is a skill that has served many CCOs very well for many years.
I recently wrote about a presentation at the SCCE 2014 Compliance and Ethics Institute about influence and was reminded of this when I read an unattributed article in the Financial Times (FT) entitled “Persuasion for the time pressed”. In this article it discussed Professor Robert Cialdini, the Regents’ Professor of Psychology and Marketing and Arizona State University. Professor Cialdini is one of the leading proponents of ‘persuasion science’, which draws upon various disciplines, including “psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics”. The Professor has been in this field for over 30 years and has been dubbed “The Godfather of Influence” based upon his work. One of his insights was that corporations should have a “chief persuasion officer” because such a person can help to bring influence upon others and “often it is the smallest changes that can make the biggest differences.”
In his work, entitled “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, Professor Cialdini laid out what he believed to be six “universal principals of persuasion” which I have adapted for the compliance practitioner.
- Reciprocity – Cialdini believes that people will feel obligated to return favors performed for them. But for the compliance practitioner, I think this means listening and using skills to help manage risk or even high-risk areas. One of the points of compliance is that unless a transaction involves bags of cash being paid to get a deal done, there usually a way to manage compliance risk. If you, as a CCO, can help an executive or your company to successfully manage a high compliance risk, this will be remembered.
- Authority – Cialdini believes that people look for experts to show them the way. The Department of Justice (DOJ) expects a company’s compliance experts to have subject matter experts (SMEs) on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption compliance programs. This is made clear in the FCPA Guidance, in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program. For the CCO, Cialdini’s insight is that you or someone on your staff must be able answer the day-to-day questions that come up on doing business not only in compliance with the FCPA but your company’s compliance regime.
- Scarcity – Here Cialdini takes a slightly different tack by noting that the less a resource is available, the more people want it. For the CCO, I think this translates to the scarcity of your time. A good chuck of your time must be spent at the corporate office but a large amount must be spent out in the field. Your employee base will respond to you more often and with a deeper symbiosis if you can get out into the field and meet people.
- Liking – Noting the self-obvious Cialdini says that the more people like you, the more they want to say yes to you. However, as noted in point 3 above, for the CCO I think this means getting out into the field, training employees who want to do business the right way on how to do so and simply meeting and talking with them. In my corporate life I put on contract and transaction law training across the world for the company’s business units and the universal response was along the line of ‘thank you for coming out here to talk to us.’
- Consistency – Here Cialdini intones that people want to act on concert with their values. I believe that most people do want to conduct their business ethically and in compliance with anti-corruption laws such as the FCPA. By providing them a way to do so, you can help them do something they were inclined to do anyway. I once had an employee in the Far East tell me that there was more then enough business for the company to garner in the middle of the road. He did not see the need to even get close to the line of bribery and corruption. With that type of attitude, a CCO can almost be a facilitator.
- Social Proof – This can be a tricky one for a CCO. Cialdini believes that people will look to others on what to do to guide their own behavior. This means that a compliance program must have sufficient incentives to get the message of compliance through middle management and down to the troops. Simply put if employees see a high revenue producer get bonuses and promotions for conduct which may violate your company’s Code of Conduct; they will come to believe in short that management is much more concerned about the bottom line than doing business ethically and in compliance.
From these articles and perspectives, I believe that several conclusions can be drawn. First, as in the case of George Shuba, a little can mean a lot. Second, from Dale Carnegie, one of the primary keys to influencing people is to listen to them. Thirdly, from Professor Cialdini, a CCO can be a CPO and by using the six principals of persuasion, can create a more effective compliance program. Finally, always seek to improve your soft skills.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014