John Hancock signatureOn this day in 1776, members of Congress affixed their signatures to an enlarged copy of the Declaration of Independence. Congress adopted the more poetic Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4. The president of Congress, John Hancock, and its secretary, Charles Thompson, immediately signed the handwritten draft, which was dispatched to nearby printers. On July 19, Congress decided to produce a handwritten copy to bear all the delegates’ signatures.

The most dramatic signature was that of John Hancock. Americans primarily remember him for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that the term “John Hancock” became a synonym in the US for an individual’s signature. Hancock signed his name largely and clearly so that King George could read it without his spectacles, but the story is apocryphal and, according to Wikipedia, originated years later.

Yesterday, I wrote about how one company managed culture change, focusing on the top of the organization, using the ubiquitous ‘tone-at the top’ as a starting point. Today I want to focus on another way to effect culture change for a business. Margaret Heffernan, writing in the On management column in the Financial Times (FT) in an article entitled “Microsoft has opened up – and become richer for it”, discussed how the software behemoth has engaged in a radical culture shift which she says has made the company more relevant. I found the tactics, which Microsoft used to effect this strategic shift, could have great relevance to the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner attempting to effect a change in culture.

Recognizing that culture change can only happen with the express support from the top, when Microsoft brought in Satya Nadella to head the company in 2014, he advocated greater openness at the company. Heffernan provided examples of strategic partnerships that Microsoft has engaged in. These included partnerships with Dropbox, “while Skype and Salesforce are integrated into Office productivity apps.” Even more amazingly, Microsoft Vice President of Office 365 appeared on stage at an Apple product launch. As Heffernan noted, “many in the tech world thought the sky had fallen.”

Heffernan also pointed to the example of Microsoft acquisitions that, in the past, were done mostly to destroy competition when the acquired businesses were shut down. However, “now they are tapped for wisdom and insight. Founders of acquired companies are taken seriously as entrepreneurs, their views canvassed not just about Microsoft’s products but about its culture too. Where once founders were deemed a threat, now their position as entrepreneurial outsiders is seen as an asset, an opportunity to learn and to refresh culture and know-how.”

The key is that “everyone must be open to learning from everything and from each other.” Heffernan said this approach “at Microsoft has replaced fortress walls with a porous membrane: a dynamic relationship between the company and the markets it serves, because that is the only way companies stay young and relevant.” Yet to make this culture shift requires a company to attempt to be adaptive. Simply sitting and resting on your collective laurels is no longer sufficient. The same is true in the compliance profession. This means something more than evolving your compliance program to meet the challenges of business in the dynamic world of 2016.

Just as Heffernan writes, “To be a company that can do this requires people who can work effectively with all kinds of technology and all kinds of people. So the company has to be inclusive — both technologically and culturally. And because the technology environment changes at a furious pace, people must be able to do likewise.” This means that in the compliance function, its practitioners need to understand where compliance is and where it is going. Keeping abreast of corporate culture is clearly a part of this. This means more than listening, it means listening and incorporating the changes you learn about into your culture and compliance program going forward.

In the arena of mergers and acquisitions this means that if you make an acquisition you should consider what the acquired entity brings to the culture and compliance table. As Heffernan notes, “Anyone who has been part of an acquisition knows that, however strategic such moves may be, what makes them succeed or fail is how well the cultures fit. So most companies insist that the newcomer conforms to the ways of its acquirer. Microsoft’s approach is both harder and potentially richer: recognising in its acquisitions the opportunity to reinvigorate itself and its place in the world.”

Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, Michel Van der Bel, had an even more interesting approach, which ties into the concept of business solutions to compliance. He said in the past, “performance was all about numbers. If the numbers were great, only at the end of a good third quarter might you start thinking about corporate culture. But not now. “Now,” he says, “you have to perform and transform at the same time, all the time. Sitting in your office looking at spreadsheets won’t help you meet your numbers. You have to get out, talk to partners, to customers — directly. You have to think about: what have you done differently in your behaviour that makes the company better? What are you learning?””

Van der Bel further admonished, “Transformation has to start with you.” As a CCO or compliance practitioner, your company culture and compliance program will be influenced through your corporate stakeholders. Most compliance practitioners understand this in the context of their employees; yet key third party relationships are also stakeholders. When was the last time you toured your key international third parties to understand the compliance challenges they face in representing your company?

As a CCO or compliance practitioner, you need to be seen as leading this type of behavior. Heffernan ended with these propitious comments from Van der Bel, “It starts with you. You must always show up energised and open. Annual surveys are a thing of the past; you have to get a sense of pulse on a weekly basis. I’m much more thoughtful about which meetings I attend, how I add value. You have to get out more and listen more.”

For any compliance practitioner, keeping your finger on the pulse of your company culture is key and by doing so you can effect change when required. More importantly by engaging in these activities you should be able to burn compliance into the very DNA of your company. And by accomplishing this, you make compliance a part of everyday business practices and you are now doing 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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2016