Today I want to celebrate one of most impressive jumps from indie band status from the 1970s as we honor the 40th anniversary of the Heart album Dreamboat Annie, which was released in February, 1976. Heart is still comprised of the Wilson sisters Annie, who was the lead singer, and Nancy, her guitar prodigy sister. I still have a King Biscuit Flour Hour reel to reel recording of the band rocking out to this album from the same year. Heart gained their following the old-fashioned way, by paying their dues rocking out in clubs across the western provinces of Canada and their debut album was more than a stunner. Great song writing; great passion and great guitar work all in two great female rockers.
This cross-fertilization of rock and roll from north of the border to us down south informs today’s blog post as I consider how a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner might foster a culture of compliance in a robust business environment. I thought about this issue when reading an article in the Corner Office section of the New York Times (NYT), where Adam Bryant interviewed Amit Singh, the President of Google for Work, in a piece entitled “Foster a Respectful Clash of Ideas”.
One of Singh’s insights was when to lead, rather than handling an issue himself, and when to coach. He said that he “learned the hard way about the importance of coaching people rather than jumping in and doing the work for them. A lot of folks have a tough time with that balance, and I did, too. Instead of giving people advice or coaching them on how to present something, I would go and do it for them or write their presentation.” He also noted the time to coach is in the moment and urged leaders not to put off a teachable moment as this helps to make the teaching “actionable.”
Yet this teaching should be done in a way that encourages your employees. Singh believes, “It’s about trying to make somebody better versus criticizing someone for doing something. Done right, people love it, because you’re really invested in their success. The flip side is that if you just say what’s wrong, then people feel terrible.” This may seem like second nature to a compliance professional but it certainly bears continued emphasis.
Singh also talked about the importance of communication. However he said it in a fresh way that emphasized it more by noting, “Whatever amount of time you’re spending communicating, it’s never enough. I realized that so much gets lost in translation in emails. You have to spend time communicating your point of view and establishing a vision for the team and how you’re going to get there. It’s superimportant.” [emphasis supplied]
Singh had the insight that is often overlooked in the compliance discussion. He said, “I think people are looking for inspiration. Work needs to have meaning, and they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger.” Yet he believes that to help employees achieve this you not only have to be thoughtful but you are also required to communicate with them effectively. Perhaps this means I should amend my mantra of the three most important things in a best practices compliance program by adding “Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate”.
Part of this communication from Singh is to help facilitate a conversation back up to him. While most people think the point of a conversation is the back and forth, the key insight I got from reading Bryant’s piece was that he views ‘conversation’ as having a vertical component as well. Singh said, “Another lesson is that as big as the organization might be, it doesn’t always take that much to reach out and connect with people. We have a very flat structure at Google, and it’s pretty open. Anybody can come into my office and say, “Hey, I want to have a cup of coffee with you.” I remember being so motivated by a leader who always felt so accessible even though he spent all of five minutes with me.”
When it comes to differences in opinions, Singh values not only the diversity but also the insights. He gave the example around the interview process at Google, where the company has a minimum of four for each candidate. Not only is this a very robust process that allows evaluation of a candidate but it also provides “diverse points of view and then you connect to see if this is the right person.”
It is the diversity that Singh values so highly. He said, “Diversity of thought is actually the most invaluable thing in a business community. If we’re always agreeing with each other, then we haven’t gone down paths of debate that allow new ideas to emerge. Some of the best discussions are passionate but respectful, so that you leave a meeting without feeling like you’ve lost something, even though your point of view may not have been the one that was adopted. That is what fosters innovation in a company – a clash of ideas, but a respectful clash.”
Coming from a corporate law department into compliance, I found this last point to be the most significant. Lawyers tend to view a compliance program as rules to follow. End of debate and end of story. However, for the compliance practitioner, particularly after the structural changing which progressed the profession to Compliance 2.0, the clash of ideas has become a greater part of the job. But it is really not a clash simply if a business unit employee pushes back. There may be different or more efficient solutions to a compliance protocol developed after they role out into the field.
Singh’s insights are that through communication you can foster a conversation between disparate corporate disciplines. Bryant ended his piece with the following from Singh, “Leaders find a way to work together. They find a solution. There’s always a way, and you’ve got to find what that way is.” As the CCO it may be your charge to find the way to get something done from the compliance perspective. If you have communicated and then communicated again as suggested by Singh, you may well have allies in the business team who can assist you moving forward. If your goal is move the entire ethos of compliance out to the company in the way they do business, Singh’s insight certainly provide a good way to start.
For a YouTube clip of the album cut Dreamboat Annie, click here.
“Leaders find a way to work together…There’s always a way, and you’ve got to find what that way is.”Click to tweet
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016