Jim Langer died this week. Not familiar with that name? (And you call yourself a football fan; tsk, tsk!) He was the anchor, playing center on the offensive line for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. According to his New York Times (NYT) obituary, “Langer was a first-year starter and played every offensive down for the 1972 Super Bowl champion Dolphins, the only N.F.L. team to go unbeaten and untied in 17 games. The next year he helped the Dolphins repeat as champions and began a stretch of six consecutive Pro Bowl seasons for Miami, during which he played in 128 games in a row.” In a very rare achievement for an interior lineman, Langer was voted the Dolphins’ most valuable player in 1975. He was a four-time All-Pro choice and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, his first year of eligibility.

Langer informs today’s blog post (and honors the National Football League (NFL) 2019 season which opened yesterday) about compliance in the multiple levels of any organization. In various places, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 2019 Guidance asks how information is shared among different components of the company; what has been the company’s process for designing and implementing new policies and procedures, and who has been responsible for integrating them?

These questions point to a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner demonstrating how compliance is being burned into the fabric of an organization. While leadership at and from the top has long been considered by both the DOJ and compliance professionals as a key element to move compliance forward, the 2019 Guidance focuses our attention around compliance leadership from the middle and the bottom. Andrew Hill, in an article entitled “Leadership from the bottom up”, discussed this concept. I was particularly struck by a quote from Shlomo Ben-Hur, a professor at IMD business school, who said, “We teach the top 5 per cent – but the majority of this work is carried out by the other 95 per cent.”

In Ben-Hur’s research, he found that many executives came from the middle management ranks. They tended to be persons determined to make something great out of what they have responsibility for. Anecdotally, he related “They typically said, ‘I’ve responsibility for the minibus,’ and people then asked them to drive bigger and bigger buses until one day they drove the whole business.” Think of the military and the responsibility given to front line commanders and how that “is increasingly reflected at large companies.”

The key for companies is that senior management must “find ways to transmit leadership skills to people who do not have ‘leader’ in their job description and will probably never attend a top-level leadership program.” Hill noted that Ben-Hur’s work had focused on getting managers to assign the right jobs to the right team members that would motivate them to perform well.

For the CCO or compliance practitioner, this provides a clear path to help in the operationalizing of compliance by providing the tools to persons far down the organization to put compliance into the operations of a business. Hill writes that a company should nurture such learning because by doing so, it will both teach practical skills around compliance but also foster a strong internal network of compliance advocates who can move initiatives up and down and organization. Moreover, as these individuals progress through the company ranks, they can take their compliance message with them at each new level.

Building on the writings of Hill and the work of Professor Ben-Hur, my suggestion is to build a Compliance Excellence Center in your company. Bring in middle managers to focus on understanding not only their roles in compliance but also how to assign the right team members to a compliance initiative and motivate employees going forward. Hill wrote that Airbus established a corporate “university” to spread leadership ideas through the company. Airbus’ theory behind this push is “being a leader isn’t just about being a vice-president; it’s about being able to push the company towards new ways of doing things and executing the things we have to execute. That could [apply to] a blue-collar worker on the shop floor or a VP.”

A key is not simply to train such middle and front-line managers on compliance but getting them to consider rollout, effectiveness, testing and improvement. In other words, as Jay Martin, CCO, Baker Hughes, a GE company, would say, it is all about execution. One way to help facilitate this is through exercises using incentives to “make leadership insights stick and change workplace behavior.” Hill also writes that concepts from entrepreneurship can assist in such learning by encouraging managers to “think and act independently” to operationalize compliance. Finally, never forget mentoring as a manner to spread good compliance practices throughout a company if a more formal approach is not possible.

Too often, strategies to move a compliance program or even an initiative come from the top of an organization and are pushed down. To fully operationalize compliance, you must have leadership in compliance further down the organization which (hopefully) has been a part of the design process and can lead the implementation throughout an organization.

I seriously doubt we will ever see an undefeated team in the NFL again. The Patriots came very close in 2007 when they went 18-0 during the regular season and two games into the playoffs. Yet one helmet catch by David Tyree ended the Patriots dream. Langer reminds us that all those who toil “in the trenches” have an important role to play in the operationalization of compliance.

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, 2019