Compliance Week is Great, But Focus Needs to be Year-Round

This week is Compliance Week and I couldn’t let it pass without acknowledging and saluting all the great people who work so hard to elevate ethics and compliance into a top-of-mind topic in workplaces around the world. You are the unsung heroes of the business world.

Many organizations still devote time and resources to promoting their ethics and compliance programs in a more comprehensive way one week a year. But I heard a comment at the recent Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics--my apologies, but I can’t recall who said it, or in what context--but it’s still relevant.

The person said it seemed as if compliance week had lost its effectiveness at many organizations, and had become something that was done to check a box, allowing the group to say, “Yeah, we have a Compliance Week every year.”

Which raises the question: Are such weeks still relevant?

So I asked three of my compliance friends--Joe Murphy, Kitty Holt and Adam Turteltaub--what they thought.

Holt, an ethics and compliance officer for nonprofit aid organization Plan International USA, said such weeks help focus everyone’s attention on the message of ethics and compliance, but that the effectiveness of such exercises wanes if compliance is forgotten about the rest of the year.

“We held a compliance week several years ago, and are holding one this year. We do not automatically do it every year just to have it; we do it if we have something of value to impart to employees,” said Holt. “I think the week can lose its relevance if it doesn’t have a purpose.”

The more important factor is to promote and push compliance throughout the year so the message stays top-of-mind, she said.

“I suppose it could be the case if any organizations really do just focus on compliance during this one week, but that would likely not be an effective compliance program at all, which would be a much larger concern than whether or not to hold a compliance week,” said Holt.

By holding contests while conducting training during compliance week, giving people a chance to have fun and learn, people become more receptive to messages coming from compliance throughout the year, she said.

Other tips for keeping things fresh: instead of compliance week, have a privacy week to focus on something different or that may be in the news; and create a range of activities that will engage people at all skill levels of the organization. Finally: SCCE posts an excellent list of activities many organizations are carrying out for Compliance Week. "These are posted so that we can use them at our own organizations, helping us to try different things," said Holt.

Demand remains strong from SCCE members for information about ethics and compliance weeks, and materials related to such programs, said Turteltaub, SCCE’s vice president of strategic initiatives and international programs. They’re “a great way to raise the profile of compliance and ethics programs,” he said.

And while there is a danger if the focus on compliance is limited to one week a year, Turteltaub doesn’t think there are many companies who do that anymore.

“It’s a year-round effort these days, with one week of added focus that can provide a touchstone for future efforts,” he said. “Not to mention that all those tchotchkes that get given out sit on desks and serve as constant reminders.”

Murphy, who has been involved in compliance for four decades and is the author of “501 Ideas for Your Compliance & Ethics Program,” said he supports these weeks “because people in this difficult field really need a sense of camaraderie. Plus, it is important that people generally understand and support what we do.”

As he sees it, anything that helps strengthen the profession and highlights the good work being done contributes to the fight against misconduct.

“If something helps empower and pep up compliance and ethics professionals, then bravo,” he said.

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