In many ways compliance is about communication. Your role as a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner is to communicate expectations around compliance and responding to questions from the business unit on how to do business in compliance. One of the ways to enhance communications is to market to your customer base. For any CCO or compliance practitioner that primary customer base is the organizations employees. While a compliance function has other customers of your services, such as third parties, employees will almost always be your primary customer base. There are some basic things that your compliance function can do within the corporate setting to market compliance to your primary customer base.
Sterling Miller, in his blog post entitled “Ten Things: How to Market the Legal Department to the Business”, discusses the need to “constantly market the department to the business”, I have adapted his pointers for the compliance function.
- Have a great compliance website. Even in the corporate world, the first contact many business folks with have with the compliance function is through your website. So make it a memorable and positive experience. As Sterling says, make it “simple, clean and practical.” He suggests a section with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), contact forms, clearly explaining who does what function in the compliance department and articles of interest.
- Communicate frequently. Obviously this includes getting out of the office to visit offices in the field. But Sterling here intones, “You ultimately want the department to be approachable and a place where employees know they can go for help.” To help achieve this goal you should strive to “communicate with the entire employee base in some manner on -at least- a monthly basis.”
- Send out a client satisfaction survey. You should ask your customer base how you are doing and what you might do better. Sterling suggests this be done on an annual basis to every 15 months. You should share the results with your compliance team and then institute appropriate changes to improve the delivery of compliance services.
- Host client compliance boot camps. While many compliance functions may come close to this idea during their annual compliance week celebrations, I think the focus here could be more in-depth for an appropriate level of management or risked base employee selection. But this technique can work as a good two-way street of communication as it allows the business unit to discuss issues which may cause the most problems and further understand how the business unit folks operate. It also continues to allow relationship building with the compliance function and their internal customer basis.
- Create a list of ‘What is Going On’. I have one colleague who, the Monday after the New York Times broke the Wal-Mart bribe paying in Mexico story, had created a PowerPoint slide deck for senior management and presented it to them as a lessons learned, tailored to his company’s business. But more than this you should communicate to senior management your compliance successes. Rarely does management know about how you have accomplished this so you should communicate the information to them. Sterling writes this type of communication should be made on a monthly, semi-annual and annual basis.
- Get a seat at the business table. This is obviously a key for making compliance a part of the DNA of any business organization. Your CCO should be on the company’s executive leadership team (ELT). But this means more than simply the top of the compliance function. Your compliance team members should be included in staff meetings, project meetings and other similar corporate meetings. This will allow not only greater visibility for compliance, to facilitate greater relationships with the business unit, but it will also allow compliance to understand, assess, evaluate and then manage risks more effectively. By putting compliance into these business processes you continually reinforce the business process nature of the compliance function.
- Volunteer projects. I found this to be an interesting suggestion. Jay Rosen often talks about how the volunteer work he does before each year’s SCCE annual Compliance and Ethics Institute has been very meaningful to him. Yet another facet of such work can be to establish a positive aspect to your corporate compliance program. Things you can consider are a mentor club for individuals within your company or outside as well; special projects with your company; some type of annual charity program; and, finally, training programs for employees that are not compliance centric, such as public speaking, better writing and similar themed programs.
- Answer the phone. This is the bane of every business person in every corporation in every country around the globe. It all starts with answering the phone and then providing an answer to the question posed. If you receive an email, respond back to it. If you are going to be out of the office or unavailable, put an out of office message on your email response and your internal company voicemail. Be sure and leave clear instructions as to who the caller or emailer can contact for assistance in your absence. As Sterling ends this section, compliance is a “service organization, so put ego and pride to the side and just focus on the fact that this is someone who needs help, what can do to help them.”
- Get out of the Ivory Tower. I said before to get out of that Ivory Tower in the corporate headquarters and into the field. There is nothing more powerful in the corporate world than boots on the ground, particularly if they come from a service function such as compliance. The information you receive and the relationships you build will be invaluable going forward. Even if you go to an international location, you can continue to perform work but you should take the opportunity for informal trainings such as a Lunch N’ Learn, office tours and socializing with the local team after hours.
- Make a buddy in finance. While this is more important for a legal department than compliance, it brings up an issue not often discussed in the compliance arena; which is budgeting. By having a compatriot in finance you can work in your budgeting forecasts and get insights into what might work but what certainly will not work in this process.
The techniques and tactics described by Miller translate well to the compliance sphere. His larger point is do not be an imperial corporate office function. It will not help you to develop the types of relationships to effectively do compliance inside a corporation. It takes effort to establish yourself and your function as a part of a living, breathing corporate entity. Take those opportunities to do so and the return may well be immeasurable.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016