This podcast opens a five-part podcast series on Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. These are plays where the structure of comedy ends the plays; i.e. everyone gets married at the end of the day. Yet these were really not happy endings. Equally they are not tragedies either. Usually in the middle is some very dark part, which tests the reader, play-goer or listener with some very difficult subjects. The five we will consider for the remainder of this week are “All’s Well That Ends Well”; “Troilus and Cressida”; “Measure for Measure”; “The Winter’s Tale”; and finally, “Timon of Athens”.

In “All’s Well That Ends Well” Helena is a low-born ward of a French-Spanish countess. She chases Bertram across Europe, sends another woman into bed with him and then captures his heart by all this aggressive stalking. Yet Helena is largely broken by Bertram’s actions.

I thought about All’s Well That Ends Well when I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) by Roger L. Martin, entitled The High Price of Efficiency. In this article, he posited that the relentless pursuit of business process efficiency can actually make an organization less resilient. As they become less resilient, they are more at risk for a catastrophic failure or a likelihood of a control failure which could lead to something akin to a major ethical violation or even legal violation such as under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Most interestingly, for the compliance professional, the author’s prescription is what we would call operationalizing compliance through pushing out the structure to allow greater resilience, largely from a diverse group of stakeholders.

I was also intrigued by Martin’s ideas about moving a company toward resilience. This allows a more adaptable response but also has redundancy which can operate to stop anything which might get through the monoculture of too great efficiencies. The points adapted for compliance are:

  1. The first is to limit scale. Here for the compliance professional, I think the clear message is that compliance needs to be in the regions not simply headed from the corporate headquarters on high. Dynamic power out in the regions would prevent this redundancy both in the regions going out and in the corporate headquarters coming back.
  1. The second is to introduce friction. This is the situation where a company creates an artifice so clean that if something untoward enters the system, it can wipe it out. You should is to bring in someone from the outside to review your compliance program on a two- or three-year basis, to provide an outside perspective but also put some sand in your shoes at times.
  1. The third prescription should be high on every Chief Compliance Officer’s (CCO’s) game plan. It is to “create good jobs.” From the compliance perspective, this was mandated in the Department of Justice’s 2017 FCPA Corporate Enforcement Program, where one of the factors listed around the compliance function of a best practices compliance program was , “The compensation and promotion of the personnel involved in compliance, in view of their role, responsibilities, performance, and other appropriate factors”.
  1. CCOs must also work to teach resilience in their organizations. Some may call this simply a “Can-do” spirit but I think the better approach is that as a compliance professional, you are only limited by your imagination.

Just as Shakespeare’s problem plays hold a dark middle to a usually comedic beginning and end, the continued resiliency of the corporate compliance function, even if it is not always as efficient as may be desired, can be a valuable lesson going forward.

Tomorrow, Troilus and Cressida.