There is much that a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner can learn from Shakespeare. I have often used his plays as introductions to blog posts or as examples to inform a compliance program. Today, I want to consider the most famous venue of Shakespeare as a way to inform your compliance program, the renovated Globe Theater now 20 years old, having opened in London in 1997.

For any lover of Shakespeare, a trip to the Globe Theater is dream come true. To close your eyes and hear the Bard’s work performed in as close an approximation to how it sounded in the 1590s and 1600s is pure joy. Yet a trip to the Globe Theater brings out much more, for the audience, actors, directors and others. According to Matt Trueman, writing in the Financial Times (FT), in a piece entitled “Sphere of Influence”, the renovated Globe Theater was conceived by the man most responsible for its construction, Sam Wanamaker, as far back as 1949.

Wanamaker’s vision and persistence began with research and pushed Shakespeare scholarship forward. It led to “an explosion of research into period architecture and timber craftsmanship.” His vision eventually led to the excavation of the original Globe Theater in 1989. From this exaction, long lost or forgotten construction techniques were revived for the renovated Globe Theater, what Trueman termed “learn by doing.”

This is a key insight for any CCO or compliance practitioner. It means you have to learn the business to come up with appropriate compliance solutions for the business. This not only means understanding the risks of your company’s business but also how it delivers on that business; its sales models. The best way to garner that understanding is by getting out in the field; observing, talking and listening to your business development (BD) team. Not only will this approach give the insights derived by doing but it should garner closer business relationships between compliance and BD going forward.

If you have had the privilege of attending a performance at the Globe Theater, the most apparent difference in almost any other performance in any other theater is the groundlings or the audience which stands, literally on the ground floor immediately in front of the stage. The cast does not simply perform for the groundlings, in many ways they perform with the groundlings, “Talk directly to one groundling, for instance, and the whole audience tunes in.” The groundlings interact back with the actors in ways which do not change the dynamics of the performance but interact with it. The actors must respond to shouts and taunts but must do so, in Shakespearian language and tied to the play being performed.

This is one of the finest examples of operationalizing theater you can see in the modern world, all tied to the 16th century theater-going experience. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are a prime example. If you read a soliloquy, you consider it as an inner monologue. Yet performed at the Globe Theater, the actors are forced to address them directly to the audience and it changes the perception of people and how you interact with them. This focus on interaction is another key insight for the compliance practitioner. It is more than simply how you interact with BD but how does your compliance regime interact into the overall operation of your business.

Another key component of the Globe Theater experience is what Trueman calls “shared light” for not only is the theater open air but as Farah Karim-Cooper, the Globe’s head of higher education and research noted, “visibility is very much a part of the furniture of [Elizabethan] dramaturgy.” She went on to say, “All you have to do is drop a play in the Globe and its basic features come to life. You can take the plays out of the playhouse, but you can’t take the playhouse out of the plays.”

That is a fascinating insight for every CCO and compliance practitioner. The architecture of your company can speak directly to the requirements of your compliance program. Here consider the structure of Wells Fargo which contributed to the fraudulent account scandal. It was de-centralized to the extreme; leading to a business unit head telling her functional reports they could not share information with their direct superior reports in corporate. It also led to this same business unit leader feeling she could mislead and obstrufrucate to the company’s Board of Directors.

There is nothing wrong with having a de-centralized command structure or business unit structure. The Globe Theater analogy means that compliance must adapt its delivered compliance program to the company structure and not vis-versa. As Trueman noted, “strip the set back, admit the architecture”. You should work to operationalize your compliance program into the manner in which your company is constructed. By doing so you will do as the renovated Globe Theater has done and make your compliance program seamless with your business. This is the essence of operationalization.

The final point in Trueman’s article is about the ticket prices at the Globe Theater and how this is “at the heart of audience engagement.” From the start back in 1997, the ticket prices for groundlings were set at £5. This pricing has cascaded through English theaters and now even the West End is “safeguarding cheap seats”. Shakespeare, like a corporate compliance program is for everyone. Even if everyone hears, sees, feels and experiences Shakespeare differently. Your fully operationalized compliance program is for your entire employee base. As the 2012 FCPA Guidance said, compliance is from the Board room to the shop floor.

This may be the biggest, best and final lesson from the Globe Theater. Trueman ended his article with, “For the talk of reviving the past, it has helped to open the theater up to the audience of the future.” The same is true of an operationalized compliance program. You can use compliance to make your company run better, more efficiently and at the end of the day more profitably.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017