Valley of FearToday I conclude my dual-themed week of blog posts featuring Conan Doyle’s four Sherlock Holmes novels and innovation in the compliance function. As the compliance profession matures and we move into what I call the era of CCO 2.0. Today we celebrate Doyle’s final novel, The Valley of Fear. This novel was written in 1914 and serialized in the Strand Magazine between 1914 1915. It was notable for two reasons. The first that it was at least inspired by events in America involving the Molly Maguires, the Pinkerton Agency and its undercover agent James McParland.

In this story, Holmes decodes a cipher from Professor Moriarty’s organization for a person named Douglas in Birlstone. It is discovered that there is a corpse who was an assassin sent to kill Mr. Douglas. Douglas literally blew the head off of his American assassin and dressed the body as himself. Holmes intoned that a dumb-bell weighed down the killer’s clothes in a moat. The assassin left a calling card, monikerred VV341, which was a code for the Vermissa Valley Lodge 341. This was a reference to undercover work that Douglas did years before for the Pinkerton Agency when he went undercover, first with Freemen in Chicago, then west to a desolate mountain coal mine area, to take down corrupt murderers who ran the Valley Freemen Lodge. Years later the US criminals enlisted Professor Moriarty to find Douglas. Holmes warns Douglas to flee England. The second item of interest is that Moriarty prevails as the story ends with Mrs. Douglas wiring Holmes that her husband was lost overboard on his way to South Africa.

I thought about this final Holmes novel, with its multi-continent settings, when I read another article on innovation in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Managing Yourself Getting Virtual Teams Right”, by Keith Ferrazzi. As any compliance function will have a truly global reach and most likely a number of personnel in cities across the globe, virtual compliance teams are almost a given. The author states, “The appeal of forming virtual teams is clear. Employees can manage their work and personal lives more flexibly, and they have the opportunity to interact with colleagues around the world. Companies can use the best and lowest-cost global talent and significantly reduce their real estate costs.” But in the compliance arena this may go past a simple appeal and become a true need. This means that mastering this most valuable and necessary tool is a skill that any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner will need to become proficient in using.

While this skill may seem straightforward or even intuitive, the author believes that efficient use of virtual teams can greatly increase productivity. He believes that “there are four must-haves: the right team, the right leadership, the right touchpoints, and the right technology. By following simple high-return practices for each, managers can maximize the productivity of teams they must lead virtually.” 

The Right Team

The author believes that your team composition is your beginning point. He says you need to consider the right people, the right size and the right roles. This means that the virtual team members have the appropriate set of abilities, such as “good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to work independently, and the resilience to recover from the snafus that inevitably arise. Awareness of and sensitivity to other cultures is also important in global groups.” He believes this equates to a team that is no larger than 10 people. For roles the author suggests an approach which “defines three tiers of team members: core, operational, and outer. The core consists of executives responsible for strategy. The operational group leads and makes decisions about day-to-day work but doesn’t tackle the larger issues handled by the core. And the outer network consists of temporary or part-time members who are brought in for a particular stage of the project because of their specialized expertise.” 

The Right Leadership

Here the author cites to key behaviors that are critical in virtual teams. The first is trust. He said you should provide the opportunity for the team members to get to know each other as people, if only through the virtual format. Once trust is established the next step is foster open dialogue or what he calls “Observable candor” because without frankness among the team it will not succeed. Finally, it is important to clarify goals and guidelines or “the importance of establishing a common purpose or vision, while also framing the work in terms of team members’ individual needs and ambitions. Explain to everyone why you are coming together and what benefits will result, and then keep reiterating the message.”

The Right Touchpoints

The author believes that even virtual teams will need to come together at certain key points. He identifies three: kickoff; onboarding and milestones. Getting together at kickoff will allow everyone to put a face with a name and will help to set “expectations for trust and candor, and clarifying team goals and behavioral guidelines. Eye contact and body language help to kindle personal connections and the “swift trust” that allows a group of strangers to work together before long-term bonds develop.” Onboarding is when you bring a new person onto the virtual team and Ferrazzi explains that it can be intimidating to come on board a team after it is up and running. He suggests bringing a new person to the corporate office and welcome them in person. Finally, Ferrazzi says that even the most dedicated teams can lose momentum as team members begin to feel disconnected. To counter-act this, he suggests bringing the full team together at certain intervals.

The Right Technology

Ferrazzi believes that even the best virtual teams “can be felled by poor technology.” He identifies conference calling, direct calling and text messaging and virtual team rooms all which can make the virtual team experience “open and searchable, making it easy for existing teams to find subject-matter experts or review their own work and for ad hoc teams to form around business-related passions.” Ferrazzi cited to one example where, when data on employee resource use was made available, “a few interested parties self-organized into a virtual project team to create a system that documents individuals’ cost savings over time. As people began to compete for the biggest savings, the company benefited.”

The earliest virtual teams were formed to facilitate innovation among top experts around the world who didn’t have time to travel. However in today’s corporate environment, teams of physically dispersed employees are more often just a necessity of doing business. The compliance function will almost always be dispersed across a wide multi-national area. Some of the tips presented herein can help you run a more efficient organization while allowing greater flexibility going forward.

This post will conclude this week’s Sherlock Holmes-Innovation in the compliance function series. I hope that you have enjoyed it and benefited from it as well. As we move to CCO 2.0, many of these soft skills will become more and more important in the doing of compliance.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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