The coming weeks and months will be incredibly challenging for all as COVID-19 does not respect national boundaries, races, religions or another other construct people have created to differentiate themselves from each other. The same will be true for businesses of all stripes across the globe. This week, I want to focus my writings on some of the things a compliance practitioner can do right now, in the midst of this crisis, and what we might need to consider as we prepare to come out of the crisis, hopefully in the weeks and months ahead. Today, I want to lay out some of the basics every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) compliance professional and compliance practitioner will need to begin with in dealing with this crisis.

Almost everyone, who is not deemed an essential employee in an essential industry, is working from home. That includes compliance professionals. The first step is to work from home as successfully as possible. Sean Freidlin put out one of the first pieces on this as he has successfully done so for the past four years. He also led off the premier episode of the latest offering from the Compliance Podcast Network, Compliance and Coronavirus, with his tips. Freidlin’s four tips included get outside the house/apartment/flat for some mind-clearing respite; work professionally, as if you were in the office; develop a flexible schedule, obviously important for a compliance professional at an international organization; and find your comfort zone in both dress, work location and moving forward during the day.

Beyond getting set up to work efficiently, you will need to keep in touch with your compliance team. Gini Dietrich, writing in Spin Sucks, believes that it is important to not only keep in touch with your team but do so on a daily basis. Her team has a daily scrum at 8AM where they can communicate to each other what they are working on and if someone has time that day or needs help with a new project, they make a reallocation. Jeffrey Hazylett, Founder of the C-Suite Network, said in a recent webinar that he uses this approach in a different way by having a check in at the end of the day at 5:30 where his team can let everyone know their status, how they are doing and what to expect the next day. The clear import here is to facilitate communications on a wide basis.

Next, what attitude should you bring to this crisis? As a CCO or compliance professional, one of the key traits you should have is empathy. This should come to the forefront even more now. Dick Cassin, writing in the FCPA Blog, said that one thing he is observing right now is fear and fear produces greed. He used the example of those hoarding toilet paper but it also applies to the compliance professional as fear produces irrationality. That fear can be about job security or even the continued existence of your company. This can lead people to doing irrational things that might never consider, such as paying a bribe.

In a prior post, Cassin said, “corporations live in fear. At least the smart ones do. They know that every day, no matter how hard they try, they’re facing economic extinction. Why? Because that’s capitalism. Someone out there is always trying to eat your lunch.” Cassin ended by noting that often times when a corporation is sanction for bribery and corruption, “we automatically point to greed as the reason. Fear isn’t mentioned. Are we overlooking something important? So, let’s close this with a final question (or two): Has our fixation on greed distracted us from seeing how fear motivates so much corporate crime? And does that mean compliance programs are still falling short because we’re trying to cure the wrong disease?”

What this mean for the CCO or compliance professional is that you not only have to have more empathy now but you may be required to look closer. Is greed really driving decisions or is it fear now? This could lead to a new manner of thinking and at the end of the day provide a more holistic approach not simply for the detection of bribery and corrupt but its prevention through more focused and more efficient training and controls.

Finally, for every CCO and compliance professional, this is the time to exhibit real leadership in your organization. If there was ever a time to demonstrate that effective compliance leads to more efficient business process and greater income now is the time to do so. A nearly 20 year-old article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled Crucibles of Leadership, posited there were four key leadership skills which come into play in times of crisis. First, “the ability to engage others in shared meaning.” The next is “a distinctive and compelling voice.” The third is a strong set of ethical values. Lastly, is “adaptive capacity” which is both the ability to grasp the situation and a strength in underlying purpose which will see you through the crisis. But more than seeing you through this coronavirus crisis, as a compliance professional, you and your organization will be able to both “learn from it, and to emerge stronger, more engaged, and more committed than ever. These attributes allow leaders to grow from their crucibles, instead of being destroyed by them—to find opportunity where others might find only despair. This is the stuff of true leadership.”

Tomorrow we will consider how compliance never sleeps during a crisis, why you as a compliance professional must maintain vigilance and some steps you can take now.

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, 2020

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