The role of Human Resources (HR) in anti-corruption compliance programs, is often underestimated. If your company has a culture where compliance is perceived to be in competition or worse yet antithetical to HR, the company certainly is not hitting on all cylinders and maybe moving towards dysfunction. Another way you can operationalize compliance is in HR’s involvement of employee promotion. In Prong 8 of the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs it asks the following question, Have there been any examples of actions taken (e.g., promotions or awards denied) as a result of compliance and ethics considerations?

The 2012 FCPA Guidance expounded further, “[M]ake integrity, ethics and compliance part of the promotion, compensation and evaluation processes as well. For at the end of the day, the most effective way to communicate that “doing the right thing” is a priority is to reward it. Conversely, if employees are led to believe that, when it comes to compensation and career advancement, all that counts is short-term profitability, and that cutting ethical corners is an ac­ceptable way of getting there, they’ll perform to that measure. To cite an example from a different walk of life: a college football coach can be told that the graduation rates of his players are what matters, but he’ll know differently if the sole focus of his contract extension talks or the decision to fire him is his win-loss record. In other words make compliance significant for professional growth in your organization and it will help to drive the message of doing business in compliance.

I thought about these concepts when I read an article in the Corner Office column of the Sunday New York Times (NYT), where columnist Adam Bryant interviewed Sally Smith, the Chief Executive of Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant chain. She had some interesting concepts not only around leadership but thoughts on the hiring and promotion functions, which are useful for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner striving to drive compliance into the DNA of a company.

Here Smith had some thoughts put in a manner on promotions not often articulated. One of her cornerstones is to search out the best person for any open position, whether through an external hire or internal promotion. Bryant stated that Smith said “We use the phrase “wait for great” in hiring. When you have an open position, don’t settle for someone who doesn’t quite have the cultural match or skill set you want. It’s better to wait for the right person.”

Smith articulated some different skills that she uses to help make such a determination. Once a potential hire or promotion gets to her level for an interview, she will assume that person is technically competent but “I assume that you’re competent, but I’ll probe a bit to make sure you know what you’re talking about. And then I’ll say, “If I asked the person in the office next to you about you, what would they say?””

Passion and curiosity are other areas that Smith believes is important to probe during the hiring or promotion process. In the area of passion, Smith will “Often ask, “What do you do in your free time?” If they’re passionate about something, I know they’re going to bring that passion to the workplace.” Smith believes curiosity is important because it helps to determine whether a prospective hire will fit into the Buffalo Wild Wings culture. Bryant wrote, “I look for curiosity too, because if you’re curious and thinking about how things work, you’ll fit well in our culture. So I’ll ask about the last book they read, or the book that had the greatest impact on them.” Smith also inquires about jobs or assignments that went well and “ones that went off the tracks. You ask enough questions around those and you can determine whether they’re going to need a huge support team.”

I found these insights by Smith very useful for a compliance practitioner and the hiring and promotion functions in a compliance program. By asking questions about compliance you can not only find out the candidates thoughts on compliance but you will also begin to communicate the importance of such precepts to them in this process. Now further imagine how powerful such a technique could be if a Chief Executive asked such questions around compliance when they were involved in the hiring or promotion process. Talk about setting a tone at the top from the start of someone’s career at that company. But the most important single item I gleaned from Bryant’s interview of Smith was the “Wait for great” phrase. If this were a part of the compliance discussion during promotion or hiring that could lead to having a workforce committed to doing business in the right way.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Denying a promotion or award due to an employee’s ethical lapses.
  2. Use promotions to reinforce your company’s commitment to compliance and ethics.
  3. Should you wait for great?


This month’s series is sponsored by Advanced Compliance Solutions and its new service offering the “Compliance Alliance” which is a three-step program that will provide you and your team a background into compliance and the FCPA so you can consider how your product or service fits into the needs of a compliance officer. It includes a FCPA and compliance boot camp, sponsorship of a one-month podcast series, and in-person training. Each section builds on the other and provides your customer service and sales teams with the knowledge they need to have intelligent conversations with compliance officers and decision makers. When the program is complete, your teams will be armed with the knowledge they need to sell and service every new client. Interested parties should contact Tom Fox.