LRN Perspectives

Lights, Action, Compliance!: Stephen Harris Brings a Passion for Performance to Ethics and Compliance at Lincoln Financial Group

October 8, 2019 LRN Corporation

“I work to build a program that blends seamlessly into the voices of those who are around me, so that Ethics and Compliance become part of a single organizational message.”

 – Stephen Harris

This episode of the Principled podcast is hosted by Marsha Ershaghi Hames, who is interviewing Stephen Harris, Senior Vice-President and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer with Lincoln Financial Group. Stephen shares how his unique performance background, in both theater and music, has enriched his work in Ethics and Compliance. Marsha and Stephen take time to discuss the importance of partnering with middle management, tailoring messaging to the particular audience, and live role-based training strategies. Stephen also explains how central communications are to an Ethics and Compliance strategy, and how content must be distributed across various platforms, above and beyond email.


  • [0:53] Tell us about your career path into Ethics and Compliance.
  • [0:57] Stephen fell into a practical career as a lawyer in labor and employment law, even though in college he was certain he would be an actor. Stephen also spent much of his life playing musical instruments and singing, which taught him lessons about listening to others and building programs that blend harmoniously into the voices around him as an Ethics and Compliance Officer.
  • [3:56] How much do you think listening is teachable or coachable?
  • [4:10] Listening is definitely a learned behavior, which is a frequent issues that Stephen provides coaching on. Any time you are in an influential or consulting role, you need to understand your audience, their pressures and obstacles. In fact, the best way to influence is by steering someone toward a conclusion with advice and language that is tailored to their agenda in a way that allows them to believe it was their idea in the first place.
  • [5:34] You have the performance skills to understand and listen to audience feedback, but how do you network with stakeholders in order to design and implement an Ethics and Compliance program?
  • [6:14] If the audience isn’t on the same page as you are, you may need to change the strategy or head in a completely different direction. Programs are designed in the context of the organization, and if the people you want on board with your program are not willing to move, then you need to listen and adapt in order to get to where you need to go.
  • [7:03] How do you harmonize messaging through the organization, and how did you start with the middle?
  • [7:23] The middle is critically important, because they are most likely to be able to influence the people on their teams. The goal of the Ethics and Compliance program is to identify and minimize risk through behavior. The frontline managers are the ones that employees will listen to, so they need to be key partners in modeling behavior, influencing others, and providing feedback.
  • [8:56] Can you share a little bit on your approach to creating and facilitating live Ethics and Compliance training for senior executives?
  • [9:08] The C-Suite and the Corporate Leadership Group go on a strategy retreat once a year, which was an excellent opportunity to provide a more tailored, role-based interactive experience. Stephen introduced a series of self-evaluation questions that every leader ought to be looking at periodically, including participating in training and engaging Ethics and Compliance Officers early.
  • [12:44] How heavily are you involved in the communications and marketing of the programs?
  • [12:55] Stephen gets personally involved and wants to take a much more focused and rigorous approach to communications. A communications strategy and an editorial calendar were developed to determine the key messages that needed to be delivered, what the key audiences were, and what vehicles could be used. Statistics show that people won’t open emails, so content needs to attract users over a variety of channels.
  • [14:56] What has been one of the more rewarding aspects of this role?
  • [15:08] The most rewarding things are the small things, such as positive feedback on content that’s released. When Stephen sees and hears the evidence that people have got the message, and it influences how they think about their job and their behavior, it means the program is effective.
    Don’t miss our next episode! Be sure to subscribe to Principled on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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