Blackie SherrodBlackie Sherrod died last week. To any reader of sports pages across the nation and most particularly in Texas, Sherrod was about as good as it got. For me, he was right up there with Red Smith, Frank DeFord and Shirley Povich as one of the greatest sports writers of the second half of the 20th Century. His columns on the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s and 1970s were truly pieces of art to be marveled at when savoring. He also had the good sense to hire Dan Jenkins and Bud Shrake as young sportswriters.

I thought about Sherrod when I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Making Exit Interviews Count, authors Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg assert that exit interviews, when conducted with care, can be a very useful tool in two important areas: to increase employee engagement, to reveal what may not be working in the organization.

The authors believe that exit interviews can provide insight into what employees are thinking, reveal problems in the organization, and shed light on the competitive landscape. They believe that companies should focus on six goals in their exit interviews, that there must be an emphasis in both “tactics and techniques” and, finally, that the process is a continuing conversation.

I.      Overall Goals

  1. Uncover issues relating to HR. The authors find organizations “that conduct exit interviews almost always pursue this goal but often focus too narrowly on salary and benefits.” The problem with this approach is that salary concerns are not usually what drives employees to seek employment elsewhere. It is almost always something else. The article stated, “One leader from a food and beverage company told us that exit interviews inform his company’s succession planning and talent management process.”
  1. Understand employees’ perceptions of the work itself. Here the authors require that the person conducting the exit interview understand the departing employee’s job design, working conditions, culture, and peers. By understanding and questioning the employee on this information, the exit interview “can help managers improve employee motivation, efficiency, coordination, and effectiveness.”
  1. Gain insight into managers’ leadership styles and effectiveness. Leadership style is an important reason many employees depart for greener pastures. By inquiring into and understanding this dynamic, an organization can begin to “reinforce positive managers and identify toxic ones. One executive at a major restaurant chain told us that several exit interviews she’d recently conducted revealed that micromanagement was a big problem. The conversations, she said, “led to some very tangible outcomes,”” such as establishing training and development initiatives to create better managers.”
  1. Learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) at competing organizations. While salaries and compensation packages are usually not the driver of departures, they certainly do play a role. You should use the exit interview to do some benchmarking. The authors cited to a HR executive at a global food and beverage who noted, “We use exit interviews to see how competitive we are against other employers: time off, ability to advance, different benefits, and pay packages. And we want to see who is poaching our people.”
  1. Foster innovation by soliciting ideas for improving the organization. The authors believe that exit interviews should go beyond the departing employee’s “immediate experience to cover broader areas, such as company strategy, marketing, operations, systems, competition, and the structure of his or her division.” They cite as one “emerging best practice is to ask every departing employee something along the lines of “Please complete the sentence ‘I don’t know why the company doesn’t just ____.’” This approach may reveal trends which can be incorporated into future innovations.”
  1. Create lifelong advocates for the organization. I found this one perhaps the most innovative, yet in many ways the most basic, which is of course to treat departing employees with dignity, respect and gratitude. Such treatment at departure may well encourage departing employees to recommend their former companies to potential employees, to use and recommend the companies’ products and services, and to create business alliances between their former and new employers. The authors cite to one North American financial services executive for the following, “You want [a departing employee] to leave as an ambassador and customer.”

II.     Tactics and Techniques

The authors believe that leaving such exit interviews simply to the Human Resources (HR) function is too simplistic an approach because “this approach marginalizes the process and suggests that it is an operational duty rather than a strategic opportunity. Human resources may administer the program day to day, but it is imperative that the right line leaders participate in the interviews and that the executive committee oversees the program’s design, execution, and results.”

The authors believe that exit interviews conducted by “Second-line managers (direct supervisors’ managers) typically receive more-honest feedback precisely because they’re one step removed from the employee. Also, these managers are in a position to follow up immediately and effectively. Their participation signals that the company cares about the opinions of departing employees.” Beyond this level, the authors believe that someone other than in the direct line should conduct the additional interview. I would suggest that this would be an appropriate location for the compliance department to become directly involved.

The specifications of who should be interviewed should also be considered. As departing employees can certainly be ambassadors for the organization, high level or senior management should be listed. However, from the compliance perspective, any employee who comes from a high-risk area, sector, market or geography should also be considered.

The authors point to the timing of the interviews as a key to productivity. They have seen interviews during the mid point between the announcement to depart and the actual departure date as a good time. (Of course, this assumes a policy more enlightened than asking an employee to leave immediately in such circumstances.) Yet some companies have waited until after the employee has departed because, as one person interviewed for the article noted, “They normally tell us very honestly why, and often we respond with programs to work on the problems.”

While a face-to-face interview is always deemed the most appropriate, if an employee has departed, this may not be feasible. The authors noted that some companies conduct telephone interviews or even online surveys. Nonetheless whichever method is used should have structure around the questions and questioning because “the strength of standardized interview questions is that the make it easier to spot trends.”

The penultimate issue is how will your company use this information? The authors write that the distribution of the information obtained “should respect the sensitivity of the data and protect interviewees’ candor, particularly about their bosses.” Moreover the “the distribution of data should be timed according to the executive decision cycle.”

Ultimately, always remember this is a continuing conversation that the authors call “retention conversations”. Think about using the exit interview questions and techniques with existing employees to build upon the internal data you might analyze during transaction analysis. These retention conversations, together with exit interviews can be not only a useful tool but also a critical one as well for the compliance function.

 

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, 2016

 

 

Lear's FoolI conclude my week honoring the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare by using my favorite character in all his work to introduce today’s post. He is The Fool from King Lear. Of Shakespeare’s many theatrical innovations, his transformation of The Fool from the Renaissance Court Jester of songs, music, storytelling, medieval satire and physical comedy to commentator is right up there for me. The Fool became closer to the Greek Chorus. Shakespeare brought the Chorus commentary function back. As noted in Wikipedia, “Where the jester often regaled his audience with various skills aimed to amuse, Shakespeare’s fool, consistent with Shakespeare’s revolutionary ideas about theater, became a complex character who could highlight more important issues. Like Shakespeare’s other characters, the fool began to speak outside of the narrow confines of exemplary morality. Shakespeare’s fools address themes of love, psychic turmoil, personal identity, and many other innumerable themes that arise in Shakespeare”.

While Lear’s Fool was actually a font of wisdom and commentary, the same cannot always be said for the corporate fools who put evidence of bribery and corruption in emails, excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slide deck presentations. In Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) training I always remind attendees that if you put your bribery scheme in emails, it will be uncovered. Further, if you put together an excel spreadsheet tying your nefarious acts, such as hiring the family member of a foreign official or state owned enterprise employee to the award of a contract, it will be uncovered. Now I find I must supplement my training to add the following admonition: do not put your fraudulent scheme in a PowerPoint slide deck for presentation to senior management.

The issue previously arose with our friends at GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) who put together such a presentation in 2013 for targeted bribery campaign code named “Vasily” borrowing its name from Vasily Zaytsev, a noted Russian sniper during World War II. According to Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Laurie Burkitt the campaign “targeted 48 doctors and planned to reward them with either a percentage of the cash value of the prescription or educational credits, based on the number of prescriptions the doctors made.” While Burkitt did note “A Glaxo spokesman has said the company probed the ‘Vasily’ program and [the] investigation has found that while the proposal didn’t contain anything untoward, the program was never implemented.” But, from my experience, if you have a bribery scheme that has its own code name enshrined in a PowerPoint slide deck presentation, even if you never implemented that scheme, it probably means that the propensity for such is pervasive throughout the system.

Yet now we have more and greater evidence of corporate tomfoolery from the Volkswagen (VW) emissions-testing scandal. In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “VW Presentation in ’06 Showed How to Foil Emissions Tests”, Jack Ewing reported that a top technology executive at VW prepared a PowerPoint presentation for management in 2006, laying out in detail how the automaker could cheat on emissions tests in the United States. Ewing wrote, “It provides the most direct link yet to the genesis of the deception at Volkswagen, which admitted late last year that 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with software to cheat on tests that measured pollution in emissions.”

The article noted, “It is not known how widely the presentation was distributed at Volkswagen. But its existence, and the proposal it made to install the software, highlight a series of flawed decisions at the embattled carmaker surrounding the emissions problem.” Moreover, “As the PowerPoint underscored, people inside Volkswagen were aware that its diesel engines were polluting significantly more than allowed. Yet company executives repeatedly rejected proposals to improve the emissions equipment, according to two Volkswagen employees present at meetings where the proposals were discussed.”

As more and more of the internal investigation dribbles out, VW’s claim that its emission-testing defeat device was the creation of a small group of ‘rogue engineers’ is rightly dying a death of 1000 cuts. The company began to understand that “The pattern of those [regulatory] tests, the presentation said, was entirely predictable. And a piece of code embedded in the software that controlled the engine could recognize that pattern, activating equipment to reduce emissions just for testing purposes.” This language demonstrates not only the reason behind the defeat device but the requisite mens rea to prove intent to deceive.

But VW did not stop at this aha moment of realization. The company made the defeat device better over the years. The article reported that the defeat device had been enhanced over the years. The software that allowed VW cars to appreciate when the car was being tested, differentiated from when the car was in use on the road. It measured such criteria as determining whether the steering wheel was in use and “During regulators’ tests, the engine software would turn up the pollution controls. When it was on the road, equipment designed to neutralize harmful nitrogen oxides would turned down, resulting in emissions that were up to 40 times the legal limit.” In tech terms, the software was upgraded from defeat device 1.0 to 2.0 and beyond to “detect other telltale signs of a regulatory test.”

The rogue employee defense was never going to work. To have software in place for over 10 years designed to defraud a regulatory scheme, requires a wide swath of knowledge in any organization. But not only within the organization, those vendors in the supply chain, which supplied component parts or products had to be in on the entire scheme as well. Moreover, the very top of the company has been shown to have been aware of these issues. Ewing said, “The management board led by Martin Winterkorn, the chief executive who resigned in September after the admission of cheating, repeatedly rebuffed lower-ranking employees who submitted technical proposals for upgrading the emissions controls, according to the two people who attended meetings where the proposals were discussed. The management board rejected the proposals because of cost”.

You might think only idiots would put into emails, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations not only intent to violate laws but also their plans. As bad as all of this is, it points to an even greater insight relevant to FCPA enforcement, that being the Myth of the Rogue Employee. Davide Torsello and Alison Taylor, in a post in the FCPA Blog, detailed some of the major reasons why the myth is just that, a myth. The VW PowerPoint adds yet another spike in its coffin. If your corporate culture is such that you not only communicate internally about illegal conduct but also record those communications, it speaks to a culture that supports and embraces skirting the rules. Commentators who claim that companies should not be punished by the actions of a small group of employees miss this greater truth; these employees would not engage in illegal conduct if their company, either through compensation, succession or other remuneration, did not reward them for engaging in such conduct.

That is the greater truth that Lear’s Fool would impart to corporate management.

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, 2016

Big Data 2Today I continue my exploration of big data in a best practices Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. Yesterday, I considered what big data is and some ways to think about it. Today I want to move into some thoughts on how to use it going forward. The topic of this series of blogs is based upon an eBook, entitled “Planning for Big Data – A CIO’s Handbook to the Changing Data Landscape”, by the O’Reilly Radar Team, with a series of authors each contributing a chapter. Today I will focus on a chapter by Alistair Croll, entitled “The Feedback Economy”.

Croll believes that big data will allow continuous optimization through what he terms the “feedback economy”. This is a step beyond the information economy because you are using the information that you have generated and collected as a source of information to guide you going forward. Information itself is not the greatest advantage but using that information to prevent, detect and remediate in a compliance program is.

Croll draws on military theory to illustrate his concept of a feedback loop. It is the OODA loop, which stands for observe, orient, decide and act. This comes from military strategist John Boyd who realized that combat “consisted of observing your circumstances, orienting yourself to your enemy’s way of thinking and your environment, deciding on a course of action and then acting on it.” Croll believes that the success of OODA is in large part “the fact it’s a loop” so that the results of “earlier actions feedback into later, hopefully wiser, ones.” This should allow combatants to “get inside their opponent’s loop, outsmarting and outmaneuvering them” because the system itself learns. For the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner this means that if your compliance program is able to collect and analyze information better and you can act on that information faster; you can then use it have a more efficient and more robust compliance program.

Croll believes one of the greatest impediments to using this OODA feedback loop is the surplus of noise in our data; that “We need to capture and analyze it well, separating the digital wheat from the digital chaff, identifying meaningful undercurrents while ignoring meaningless flotsam. To do this we need to move to more robust system to put the data into a more usable format.” Croll moves through each of the steps in how a company collects, analyzes and acts on data.

The first step is data collection where the challenge is both the sheer amount of data coming in and its size. Once the data comes in it must be ingested and cleaned. If it comes into your organization in an unstructured format, you will need to cut it up and put into the correct database format for use. Croll touches on the storage component of where you place the data, whether in servers or on the cloud.

A key insight from Croll is the issue of platforms, which are the frameworks used to crunch large amounts of data more quickly. His most important acumen is to break up the data “into chunks that can be analyzed in parallel” so the data can be considered and acted upon more quickly. Another technique he considers is “to build a pipeline of processing steps, each optimized for a particular task.”

Another important component is machine learning and its importance in the data supply chain. Croll observes, “we’re trying to find signal within the noise, to discern patterns. Humans can’t find signal well by themselves. Just as astronomers use algorithms to scan the night’s sky for signals, then verify any promising anomalies themselves, so too can data analysts use machines to find interesting dimensions, groupings or patterns within the data. Machines can work at a lower signal-to-noise ratio than people.”

Yet Croll correctly notes that as important as machine learning is in big data collection and analysis, there is “no substitute for human eyes and ears.” Yet for many CCOs or compliance practitioners, displaying the data is most difficult because it is not generally in a readable form. To say lawyers are not as proficient as other corporate types in excel or similar tools would be to state the obvious, yet that is about as sophisticated as many practitioners can get. It is important to portray the data in more visual style to help convey the “dozens of independent data sources” into navigable 3D environments. As Joe Oringel is want to say, there is a reason his company is named Visual Risk IQ.

Of course having all this data is of zero use unless you act on it. Croll believes that big data can be used in a wide variety of corporate decision making, from “hiring and firing decision, to strategic planning, to market positioning.” I would certainly add compliance programs as well. But it does take a shift in compliance thinking to use such data. Once again lawyers are particularly ill suited to consider such information for reasons as diverse as training and temperament. This is yet another reason why compliance has evolved to Compliance 2.0, Compliance 3.0 and beyond. Big data allows you to make a quicker assessment of the impact of measured risks. It advocates “fast, iterative learning.”

Croll ends his chapter by noting that the “big data supply chain is the organizational OODA loop.” But unlike the OODA loop, it is more than simply about the loop and plugging information as you move through it. He believes “big data is mostly about feedback”; that is, obtaining the impact of the risks you have accepted. For this to work in compliance, a company’s compliance discipline needs to both understand and “choose a course of action based upon the results, then observe what happens and use that information to collect new data or analyze things in a different way. It’s a process of continuous optimization”.

The three prongs of any best practices anti-corruption compliance program are prevent, detect and remedy. Whether you consider the OODA loop or the big data supply chain feedback, this process, coupled with the data that is available to you should facilitate a more agile and directed compliance program. The feedback components in both processes allow you to make adjustments literally on the fly. For the CCO or compliance practitioner reviewing and analyzing disparate pieces of information available to you, could help you to recognize troubling trends that are not yet full FCPA violations and deliver a solution before you have self-disclose in the new age of the Yates Memo and Department of Justice (DOJ) Pilot Program.

 

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, 2016