Sam Wyche passed away over the weekend. For you non-professional football fans out there, he was an innovative and successful National Football League (NFL) coach, leading the now forlorn Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. According to his New York Times (NYT) obituary, “In his first season in Cincinnati he benched Ken Anderson, the team’s popular longtime quarterback, and replaced him with Boomer Esiason, a rookie. Bengals teams were among the top 10 in the league in offense in five of the next six seasons.” Perhaps his most well-known innovation was running the no-huddle offense during an entire game, rather than simply at the end of the game when time was running out. Esiason, his star quarterback called Wyche “an innovator” and said he was one of the great risk takers in the coaching ranks.

Wyche also failed to understand how times changed when he barred female reporters from his team’s locker room in 1990. He was fined by NFL but Wyche stated at the time, “No amount of fine will force me to change my conviction on this matter. We need to find a way for women to have a decent and open access to all these athletes. The commissioner feels like it’s more important to fine me than to seek another solution.” Yet another solution was found and now all players are required to answer press questions after games.

I thought about Wyche as an innovator and also how he failed to change as a theme for this blog post. Today, I want to focus on what the compliance practitioner should do to move themselves forward professionally in 2020 and beyond. I drew inspiration from the Financial Times (FT) piece, entitled “Work in the 2020s: 5 essential skills to succeed”, by Lyndsey Jones. In this article Jones laid out five areas where workers need to have skills that will keep abreast of the ever-evolving marketplace. They are: (1) Adapt to thrive, (2) Be creative; (3) Develop emotional intelligence; (4) Become tech savvy; and (5) Build your personal brand.

Adapt to thrive. For the compliance professional, most particularly the law school trained compliance officer, this means learning to do much more than simply reading a spreadsheet. You will need to become proficient in a wide variety of subjects not taught in law school. Obviously, data analytics and learning to understand what the data means is a big one. Of course, behavioral psychology will also be important as well. No doubt there will be other subjects that come up that a compliance professional needs to become proficient in. Jones quoted Sue Llewellyn, a UK-based social media consultant, who said, “You need a personal growth mindset and [to] be a self-starter. Think about what you want out of life and make a small change. Before you know it, you have made a big change. People don’t realise that the only constant in life is change and nothing stays the same.”

Be creative. I often say one of the joys of being a compliance professional is that you are only limited by your imagination. This will become only truer moving into this decade. It also ties into adaptability as you must continue to grow professionally. Be curious. Study other disciplines and areas. Jones said, “Creativity will become one of the most in-demand skills and will cut across many sectors”. For instance, Jones noted, “Companies will look for people who can work with technology and make the best use of their creativity, even working alongside a “cobot” — collaborative robots that work with humans on tasks.” This is precisely what compliance officers in the financial services arena are looking and it will certainly move into anti-corruption, trade sanction and other areas of compliance. Will you be ready? Jason Wingard, dean of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, stated, “Creativity is always highly prized. Distil it into your own strategy . . . This should also make you helpful to your company””.

Develop emotional intelligence. While this is not a new skill for the compliance professional, it will only become more important in the coming years. But not only do you need good emotional intelligence to be a superior compliance professional, you need such skills to help develop a best practices compliance program. One of the keys to the success of any compliance program is to create safe places for employees to speak up. An anonymous hotline, going to see compliance, speaking up to their supervisor; these are all areas that require some form of emotional intelligence. If a compliance professional does not have it, it is unlikely they will be able communicate those traits into a corporate compliance regime. Equally important, is that high emotional intelligence generally means you are more collaborative. While collaboration is a key for any successful compliance practitioner, Jones quoted Llewellyn again for the proposition that “Employers are looking for high emotional intelligence — the ability to communicate and collaborate.”

Become tech savvy. Yes, it will take much more than your law school education to become a competent compliance professional. You will not only need to understand your business and its processes but you will need to roll up your technical ability. Jerome Glenn, executive director of the Millennium Project, a global think-tank of futurists, scientists, business partners and policymakers, stated, “We may already feel we are being bombarded with different versions of software and new programs. It will be those who can learn to “swim in the ocean of it” who will thrive.” Simply think of the data lake your company creates and builds on a daily basis, literally across the globe if you are an international organization subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Can you use Salesforce, SAP, Concur or another ERP or system widely in use? If not, you may well be left by the wayside in the field of compliance.

Build your personal brand. Here many compliance professionals think this means marketing themselves to the outside world through social media, outreach, giving speeches or some other form of personal marketing. However, this is not what the deeper meaning of a brand is all about. Building a brand is about establishing a relationship with your customers, your audience, your stakeholders and others. As a compliance professional, what is your relationship to your customer; i.e. the employees in your company? What internal corporate media outreach have you engaged in? For those outside your organization, how is your personal brand seen? Have you reached out to any podcasters in the compliance space to talk about something your organization is doing?

Being a compliance professional in the coming decade will be one of the most challenging, rewarding and exciting professions for anyone to engage in. You have the opportunity to help lead not only your organization but also your profession. To paraphrase Alyson Van Hooser, will you put your (compliance) stake in the ground and own it? For your sake and the sake of the compliance profession going forward, I hope you will do so.

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© Thomas R. Fox, 2020