Flying back home from Converge18 and it seemed like a good time for some reflections on the event. (Full Disclosure: I consult with Convercent, the event sponsor and spoke at the event.) First a word about the weather, as it was 93 degrees in Houston the day before I flew to Denver and it was 33 when I stepped off the plane. On Wednesday it snowed most of the day but alas it was hovering right at 34 degrees so it all melted. However I walked around the conference grounds several times just to experience some cold air for the first time in quite a long time. There were three sessions which provided me with three different, yet very valuable insights.
The event was opened by Convercent Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Patrick Quinlan, who gave a very personal keynote which set the tone for the event. He told one story which in many ways set the tone for the event. It was about the Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO, Edward H. Bastian, who after the Parkland school shooting ended Delta’s partnership status with the National Rifle Association (NRA). He did this without discussing it with his Board of Directors and in the face of serious political consequences in Delta’s home state of Georgia. Quinlan used this story to illustrate courage at the CEO level to take a stand when a company’s core values were impacted.
This story became an interesting discussion point in the second keynote which was a panel discussion with one current CEO, Jay Fulcher of Zeneifts; one former CEO, Walter Rakowich, formerly of Prologis, Inc.; and one Board member, Jewell Hoover from AARP. They discussed this example of Delta CEO Bastian in the context of whether they would have gone to their Boards’ beforehand for discussion, consultation or even to ask permission. Rakowich said he would have not made such a high-profile announcement without first consulting with his Board. Fulcher took the opposite approach, saying that he most certainly would have made such a statement without consulting the Board believing it was not only within his purview but his obligation to do so.
The lesson I drew was from the leadership perspective. Just as compliance professionals are often reminded that you must assess, evaluate and manage your organization’s risk; leadership must also be performed in a manner which works for your organization. There may well be no right or wrong but find the path that works for you and follow it.
This dialogue made clear that there is no right or wrong way to make such a decision. Both CEOs on the panel presented cogent arguments for the position they would take in such a situation. Their respective positions were based on their relationships with their Boards, how they viewed their roles as CEO and even their own personalities. It also speaks to risk management and how much risk a company is willing to take on from the actions of a CEO. It was quite an instructive panel.
The second lesson came from Hui Chen, who I was finally able to meet. Her session was entitled, “Measuring Ethics & Compliance: Process vs. Outcome Location”. But the title only hinted at the power of her presentation, as she used it to provide a series of thought-provoking questions. She asked the assembled group to help define values and this led to a conversation about should you do things in compliance or follow a set of ethical values? She then turned, or rather we turned, as she made the entire session interactive, to measuring values. She made clear this was an ongoing dialogue in which she is engaging many participants and one in which she is still developing her own views as well. In other words there were no answers but many, many very good questions.
Her presentation drove home a theme I had heard her articulate on a Radical Compliance podcast. It was in connection with the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (Evaluation) document released in February 2017. On the podcast, Chen said that one of her goals in formulating the Evaluation as a series of questions was to get compliance professionals to think. To think not only about their own organizations’ compliance programs but how that program could be evaluated for effectiveness and the information obtained looped back in to continuously improve your compliance program. Many compliance professionals are handling so many daily issues that they do not have, or at least do not take the time, to think about their compliance program. Chen challenged us all to think about the outcome we are trying to achieve in a compliance and ethics program. It was another good lesson.
The third lesson I drew from the first day at Converge18 came from the final morning keynote, with Sharon Gebhard, Global Business Integrity Director, Unilever. The lesson I drew from her talk was at the tactical level. She talked about many of the challenges of communicating the company’s values to a widely divergent work force in Africa. Unilever makes Lipton Tea and several other varieties. The company has multiple tea plantations in Africa where they grow and harvest tea leaves. Some of these plantations are huge, with up to 20,000 acres. Most of these workers do not have access to a computer so Gebhard’s team had to come up with creative mechanisms to facilitate Unilever’s speak up culture.
In one of the most back to the future moves I have seen in compliance, they came up a reporting box at a central location for the workers. In this box are pencils and paper and a slot where they could slip in their complaint, concern or report. This type of anonymous reporting is at least 1000 years old and was employed in the Republic of Venice. Gebhard’s team looked back to the past to come up with a solution which works today.
She provided another example of values training for company employees in Rwanda. They had distilled down ten key concepts they wanted to communicate to their workers. They put together an illustrated presentation with a few words in Rwandan to get the concepts across. They retained a local culture expert to assist in working on the presentation. Gehard put up some examples of the illustrations in her Power Point presentation that were provided by local Rwandan artists that Gebhard’s team worked with. The message I got from these presentations is the need to have sensitivity to local issues, customs and values. It was not the situation of an insensitive American dictating his or her values to an African but an American (me) not understanding the types of images Rwandans used in portraying themselves. Once again, a very powerful lesson.
I can only wait to see what Convercent comes up for Converge19. I hope you will plan to join me there.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018