While many are no doubt celebrating Cinco de Mayo today, it is also the 66th anniversary of the first foray into space for the US, albeit in a sub-orbital way. It was on this date in 1961, that Navy Commander Alan Shepard was sent into space aboard Freedom 7. The flight lasted 15 minutes, reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere and was a major triumph for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

While the Soviet Union space program won the race to put a man into space, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited earth in April 1961, Shepard’s flight restored faith in the US space program. John Glenn later became the first US astronaut to orbit the earth. Shepard went on to become the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (Evaluation) makes clear the expectation for businesses to more fully operationalize compliance into the fabric of a company. This requires a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) to have many skills which are not taught in law school, such as how to read a balance sheet. It also means a variety of other skills not taught to law students, more generally around business process. While I have focused on what it means to more fully operationalize compliance as a business process, today I want to consider how you will take that message to not only senior management but also out to the business development folks and other corporate disciplines in the field.

I recently read an article in Inc., entitled “Ready to Reorg – Shake up your company, not your business by Kate Rockwood, which I thought provided some excellent insights into this area. To move to greater operationalization, as a CCO, you will not only require buy-in from the business units but their active support. While this will only happen if the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is behind your efforts, it can still fail at the functional level if the business unit does not understand the move towards operationalization or does not buy into it. Obviously, your communication skills will be put to the test but your communication will likely only aid if you have built trust across the organization.

You must work to avoid surprises by communicating what is going on to the employee base. If you are open and honest about not only what you are doing, but also what you are trying to achieve, you can create a greater sense of trust. The article quoted Gretchen Spreitzer, who noted that “People feel like they’re psychological owners of the company, even when they are not equity owners, and that lays the groundwork for more efficient reorgs.” You should begin your communications long before you actually begin the work.

If there is to be a functional shift in the internal matrix, you need to not only communicate about it but also train on it. This concept is found directly in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program. Both ongoing communications and training are critical for a compliance program to succeed and this concept bleeds over to operationalizing your compliance program. Employees will need training on how to handle the new compliance roles which will be moved into the functional units. Here Spreitzer noted, “People always feel somewhat overwhelmed by the change process, but if they also feel overwhelmed by their skill deficiencies that really exacerbates it.” The response should be training, communications and mentorship.

If a key business unit leader or senior manager is a skeptic, turn them into an advocate. Employee resistance may well be your greatest foe in operationalization. Spreitzer said, “Diversity of opinion can make the vision better, and with a resister already on board, people who might be tentative or concerned are more likely to say it has potential.”

More generally it is not better to roll out such a change in a companywide event but rather in small groups. Spreitzer related “Employees are more likely to have a trusting relationship with their unit leader, and they’ll feel more comfortable asking questions and processing the information as its shared.” You should consider a three-step approach: (1) Here’s what we are doing and why; (2) Here’s how this operationalization will work in your functional business area; (3) Here’s how this will benefit you going forward.

The timing of your announcements can often play a part as well. Announcing a major reorg on a Friday afternoon without further details, gives employees the entire weekend to stew over it. Instead have your middle managers hold team meetings early, and often in the process, to explain in the manner noted above, answer questions and obtain feedback. If this effort will lead directly to layoffs, you need to consider this upfront rather than after the fact. Employees will see how others are treated. If operationalization is simply a way to reduce headcount, it may well not be received with the positive feedback you both want and need for it to succeed. It could well put more stress on those who remain.

From Freedom 7, the American public began to learn the lessons of solid planning and execution of NASA towards its goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him home by the end of the decade. And the American public was there for many of the steps, either with broadcasts on television or the public pronouncements of NASA. For the CCO or compliance practitioner considering how to more fully operationalize the techniques used by NASA and those laid out here make clear that in addition to the execution, the ongoing communications and training on operationalization is equally important.

And of course, Feliz Cinco de Mayo.


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 tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2017