That was one of the greatest lines from one of the greatest movies from one of the greatest laconic actors of all time. Of course it was Harry Dean Stanton who died over the weekend. Along with Jack Elam, Stanton had one of the most expressive faces of any actor ever. The New York Times obituary, said of Stanton, he was “the gaunt, hollow-eyed, scene-stealing character actor who broke out of obscurity in his late 50s in two starring movie roles”. The tributes listed in this piece were simply exceptional. Vincent Canby had written that “Stanton’s “mysterious gift” was “to be able to make everything he does seem immediately authentic.”” Roger Ebert said, “Stanton was one of two character actors (the other was M. Emmet Walsh) whose presence in a movie guaranteed that it could not be “altogether bad.””
He was in some of the most memorable movies around, in addition to Repo Man his corpus included Alien, Pretty in Pink, Escape from New York, Cool Hand Luke and The Last Temptation of Christ. However, my favorite was Repo Man, one of the great satirical commentaries on the 70s “Me” generation. Rolling Stone said of the role, “Writer-director Alex Cox’s ode to classic Hollywood noir, bratty L.A. punk and Seventies’ midnight movies is perfect in pretty much every way. But the best choice Cox made was to hire Stanton to play a philosophical veteran repo man named Bud, who teaches the rootless hero Otto (Emilio Estevez) how to swipe deadbeats’ cars with no regrets. A devout believer of a social order – on his own terms, at least – Bud makes ruining poor people’s lives sound like a religious calling.”
Even if his life and roles were intense, Stanton never gave it away. Similarly, the life of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) can also be intense and the most powerful tool you have is persuasion. Stanton and his laconic acting style demonstrated that is often soft skills which win the day. This means a CCO needs to bring another skill set to bear to do their job. Jenny O’Brien, CCO at United Health Care, has talked about the techniques that a CCO can use to influence decision making in a company in order to do business in compliance and ethically. She has called these techniques of persuasion “Seven Steps of Influence” and advocates a CCO to employ to help influence decision-making within an organization.
- Collaboration. As a CCO you need to know your company’s business. If you are new to an organization she said you must take time to learn the business. You should sit in on sales meetings and, when appropriate, you should go out on sales call. Channeling your inner Atticus Finch, you must walk in the shoes of the business leaders you are assisting. By doing so, you will not only understand the products and services that your company offers but also the challenges that your business development team will face out in the world.
- Listen. You must work constantly at active listening, which is listening, thinking and then speaking, and not just jump into the middle of a conversation, talk to people in a manner that will address their concerns. When you do speak, be prepared to make the case for the compliance proposition that you are trying to get across. As a CCO, strive to be relevant in every interaction you have with your senior management peers. This sometimes it means speaking up at meetings or other forums but sometimes it means listening. Develop a rapport with your business team and this rapport can lead to trust building.
- Relationships. This is not inter-personal relationships but those between the compliance function and other functions in an organization through a CCO or compliance practitioner can bring influence to bear. It all begins with building trust with others within your organization. Invest time to find others in your organization that you want to work and with those with whom you desire to build relationships. The key relationships that a CCO or compliance practitioner can develop are with the audit function, the legal department, Human Resources, IT and corporate communications.
- Humility. Humility is important because it empowers. It can empower others to expand the circle of influence and get others in a corporation to influence an ever-expanding circle on behalf of compliance. The CCO does not need center stage. Echoing the Department of Justice (DOJ) Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs requirement that compliance should be operationalized, business units should solve compliance issues, as compliance is just another business process. Through such influence where you can get the business unit resources to solve a compliance problem, you will hold down the costs of the compliance function. It is not about being right but about moving the compliance ball forward in the right direction.
- Negotiation. A compliance practitioner you need to learn the art of compromise. Negotiation is not about the dichotomy of winning and losing an argument or debate. A CCO should strive to redefine what a win might look like or what a win might consist of for a business unit employee. When faced with such a confrontation, try to determine what both sides wanted then give them something else in addition to what they thought they wanted. A CCO can be considered a mediator not just simply an enforcer or Dr. No from the Land of No.
- Triple ‘C’. Calm, cool and collected because all company employees, up and down the chain, are watching the CCO. For this reason, a compliance practitioner should channel their inner Harry Dean Stanton and have a laconic face, at all times. The Triple C’s are important because organizations look to the CCO to solve complex issues with simple solutions. When faced with a compliance issue or an obstacle you should endeavor to keep everything on an even keel and never let them see you sweat.
- Credibility. The final of the seven pillars was that the CCO role needs to be adequately scoped and that the accountabilities need to be clearly defined. Put another way, what is your job scope as the CCO and what is the function of the compliance department? What is your accountability to decide the resolution to an issue? As a CCO, you must demonstrate your value as a non-revenue function. This may require you to get out of your office and put on a PR campaign for compliance. A CCO needs to guard their independence in job function and reporting. You must make clear that you will have independent reporting up to the Board or Audit Committee of the Board.
Influencing, using persuasion is not a one-time activity. It is ongoing. Think of Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man showing a young Emillo Estevez the ropes or perhaps as one of the crew of the Nostradamus in Alien; even the lost soul in Paris, Texas, who emerges from the desert and gradually reconnects with the family he abandoned. But think of Stanton and channel that inner ability to be great all the while keeping a cool face.
Every CCO should channel their inner Harry Dean Stanton as being a CCO is always intense.Click to tweet
For a YouTube clip of the iconic line Repo Man’s always intense, click here.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017