This week I return to one my favorite themes for every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance professional and compliance program: Sherlock Holmes. Over the next five days, I will be considering themes from the short stories to illustrate broader application to components of a best practices compliance program. I have used three primary resources in putting together this series: Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind (Konnikova); the online site and its blog post, The Return of Sherlock Holmes (shmoop); and finally the most seminal print work on the entire Holmes canon, the three-volume The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Klinger) edited with notes by Leslie S. Klinger. Today, I consider the theme of communication.

Shmoop found that in addition to the overall storytelling of Dr. Watson, “nearly every character in the Sherlock Holmes stories is a storyteller.” Storytelling is a crucial part of the entire detective fiction genre, and the Sherlock Holmes stories really explore this aspect. Each tale begins with a new case, which is always narrated by a participant, and ends with some sort of confession/explanation scene. While we are on this journey with Holmes and Watson, both they and we “encounter tons of different people and listen to their stories. In a way, the cases that Holmes and Watson solve are like giant umbrella stories composed of a dozens of smaller stories being told by a revolving door of characters.”

In the story The Adventure of the Red Circle, Holmes solves the immediate mystery in front of him, as told by the landlady of a boarding house. The first mystery is that a lodger has not been seen for over 10 days, always staying in his room and only communicating with oblique messages such as SOAP, MATCH, DAILY GAZZETTE printed on a torn piece of paper. But Holmes divines a greater mystery as it turns out the lodger is not a man but a woman whose life is under threat and her male traveling companion can only communicate with her through references to newspaper columns. Holmes stated to Watson, “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last. This is an instructive case. There is neither money nor credit in it, and yet one would wish to tidy it up. When dusk comes we should find ourselves one stage advanced in our investigation.”

This story illustrates a couple of key points for every CCO and compliance practitioner. The first is listening. Not only is listening a key part of any leadership skill but listening will bring you a much better picture of your compliance program, its faults and successes. The reason is that its own employees are a company’s best source of information about what is going on in the company. It is a best practice for a company to listen to its own employees, particularly to help improve its processes and procedures. This type of listening extends to an internal reporting system as a company should provide a safe and secure route for employees to escalate their concerns. This is the underlying rationale behind an anonymous reporting system within any organization. Both the US Sentencing Guidelines and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Good Practices list as one of their components an anonymous reporting mechanism by which employees can report compliance and ethics violations. Of course, the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower provisions also give heed to the implementation of a hotline.

This second compliance pointer The Red Circle Illustrates is communication, for just as education never ends for Holmes, it should never end for a compliance practitioner, your communications on compliance should never end either. Louis Sapirman, CCO at Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., calls this a 360-degree approach to communications. It is not simply that communications should no longer be viewed as vertical; it is that everthing you do as a compliance professional, the way you act, and the way people see you are always communicating. It is not simply communicating to one another as often you may well be communicating to a group across siloed boundaries, to the constituencies with whom you had not even planned to initially communicate.

There are several concepts which should be included in your 360-degree view of compliance communications. Begin with an objective, identify the purpose of your communication and the target of whom you are going to communicate to. Identify as clearly as you can the purpose and reason to ensure your message is aligned with your objectives. For instance, are you implementing a 360-degree view of communication to educate, inform, change perceptions or build trust and commitment?

Next, the audience. To communicate effectively you need to understand your audience. In any corporation, there are multiple audiences who are the key stakeholders in the 360-degree process. How much do they know? Some of the stakeholders include the Board of Directors, senior management, middle management, employees, committees, coaches, facilitators, customers, business partners, vendors, sales agents and representative, strategic alliances and business ventures. What are your distribution channels and how do you track your messaging? You should create a comprehensive method to track the messages, the intended audience and the delivery mechanism. Another key ingredient of the 360-degree approach is feedback. This is a key component of the experience and educates each stakeholder on the benefits of feedback from the 360-degree approach.

Finally, you need to evaluate what you have done. You can monitor your communication activities by tracking attendance at events, website statistics, open rate of emails, downloads of materials, video hits; in other words, the same techniques that your marketing folks would use to determine their messaging’s effectiveness. The objective is to build trust for the 360-degree process by determining if the goal is achieved. You can utilize surveys or focus groups to assess the impact on your target audience. By focusing on your customer customers of compliance, i.e., your employees, it allows you to identify gaps and improve the communication process for your compliance program.

Using such a 360-degree approach, allows a CCO to see around corners and can be one of the greatest strengths of a best practices compliance program. The reason is listening and there are certainly many ways to listen. You can sit in your office and wait for a call or report on the hotline or you can go out into the field and find out what challenges employees are facing. From this you can work with them to craft a solution that works for the company and holds to the company’s ethical and compliance values.

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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018