Defining Compliance Means Moving Beyond Rules

December 14, 2018 Ben DiPietro

For all the talk about compliance and the yeoman efforts taking place to elevate the profession, seems many people still don't understand the basic tenet that a compliance program consists of more than rules and regulations, and is fundamentally based on behaviors, values and culture.

If it were just about rules and regulations, companies that were deemed to have strong ethics and compliance programs wouldn't have made headlines for their serious breaches of conduct, LRN's Emily Miner said during a panel discussion last week in Philadelphia at a Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics conference.

"Yet, that wasn’t enough to stop systemic unethical behavior," she said.

Miner pointed out regulators want more than policies that spell out what is acceptable and what isn't, citing a Department of Justice official who said in 2017 that "compliance is a culture, not just a policy."

Despite that, Miner said most companies don’t know what their culture is--even if they think they do--in part because most ethics and compliance programs are operating from a strategy informed by lagging indicators such as employee reports and training completions without understanding relative performance.

"LRN’s research and experience supporting organizations for 25 years show us that companies with strong, values-based cultures outperform across all traditional metrics of organizational performance: financial results, customer satisfaction, levels of innovation, as well as lower levels of misconduct," said Miner.

Research from LRN into ethics and compliance program effectiveness also shows the strongest programs undertake regular evaluation, including of cultural factors such as trust, respect and transparency.

So what should you measure, and how can you leverage those insights to foster ethical culture, promote ethical leadership, and scale ethical behavior?

Whether by employee surveys, focus groups or other touchpoints, measuring across all dimensions enables companies to develop a deliberate E&C strategy, prioritize training, proactively address risks, and demonstrate effectiveness to business leaders, regulators, and audit committees or boards, she said.

Undertaking such efforts, she said, sends a clear signal to employees the company truly cares about and is invested in fostering an ethical culture, creating a catalytic wave that is felt even after the assessment process," said Miner.


Following Miner's panel, LRN's Marsha Ershaghi Hames was joined by Kim Urbanchuk, chief ethics and compliance counsel for Parsons, to discuss the importance of learning how to listen, and why it is important to remember your audience by putting people first.

The session opened with a candid, personal set of reflections around their own experiences with microaggressions, many of which we "rationalized over time to tolerate, or due to workplace cultural norms we suppressed our reactions, dealt with our own concerns with retaliation, or the view that there is a lack of organizational justice and inaction is inevitable, so why bother speaking out," said Ershaghi Hames.

As Urbanchuk put it, "People quit their boss, not their job.”


Kim Urbanchuk (left), chief ethics and compliance counsel at Parsons, joins 
LRN's Marsha Ershaghi Hames last week at an SCCE conference in Philadelphia.

The pair said sometimes as women they succumb to the pressure of a double bind, where women only are viewed as competent or likable, or powerful or weak, but not both. "Therefore, speaking out had been socialized as a sign of weakness," said Ershaghi Hames.

They discussed organizational shifts and how the barrage of headlines around abuse of power are awakening corporations to the necessity to rebuild trust, the need to introduce a dialogue led through frontline management, and making it the responsibility of leaders to demonstrate visible accountability and ownership for building corporate culture.

"Frontline leaders are the gatekeepers to culture and need to be coached, developed and measured around their level of activity in building an ongoing dialogue," said Ershaghi Hames. "Learning how to #LISTENUP is critical. Learning how to listen without judgment and bias matters."

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