Over the past few weeks, I have written several articles on the lessons a compliance practitioner can draw from this year’s World Cup and the international group which runs the event, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association or more commonly know as FIFA. Over on my podcast site, the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report, Mike Brown, the Managing Director of Infortal and myself have just concluded a 7 part World Cup Report, where we discussed issues surrounded FIFA and this year’s World Cup in the context of anti-corruption programs. Whatever else FIFA may be, it is certainly is a compliance practitioner’s dream for lessons learned on bribery and corruption.
The 2014 championship is over and Germany came through this year’s tournament as the clear victors. Over the past couple of weeks, I was lucky enough to see the current Queen/Adam Lambert Tour. They ended both concerts with We Are the Champions and I could not but help think of the German soccer team and indeed the entire German country, winning its first World Cup title since unification. And, of course, any discussion of Germany, its title and this year’s World Cup will have to include is absolute destruction of the Brazilian team and the hearts of the host country with its 7-1 uber-win in the Semi-Finals. How long will that game be remembered? My guess is as long as soccer is played.
While Argentina did have its shots at Germany in the finals, in order to win they were required to play a near perfect game, which, unfortunately for the team and the country, it failed to do in the finals. Does this mean that Messi is not the greatest player in the game today? I really do not know but I still love watching him play and that is good enough for me.
From all of this, the lessons for the compliance practitioner can be many but I wanted to focus on two leadership lessons: What can you learn from failure? and What can your learn from success? Losing first. In an article in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, entitled “And Then There was Ein”, Grant Wahl wrote about how Germany turned its national soccer program around from one of its most devastating performances in Euro 2000 where it finished last in its group and did not win a single match in the tournament. From that nadir, “the national federation teamed up with German clubs to overhaul the country’s youth development.” Players from this development program were instrumental in leading the 2014 German team to the 2014 World Cup win. In other words, the German soccer federation learned from its past mistakes and grew a team that became champions.
Contrast this lesson with Wahl’s take on Brazil. He quoted Alex Bellos who said the following, “What does it mean to be the five-time champion if you let in four goals in six minutes?… The world’s biggest footballing country hosting a World Cup, in front of their own fans, and were made to look like they couldn’t play football. And against a team that was playing with artistry and sophistication and happiness, all the thing that Brazil is supposed to play with. You couldn’t have devised a more devastating epitaph for the Beautiful Game.” Bellos went on to say, “Brazil’s week from hell revealed a nation satisfied with resting on past soccer achievements and unwilling to seek new ideas abroad.”
Just as lessons can be learned from failure they can also be learned from success. In this week’s Corner Office section in the New York Times (NYT), Adam Bryant profiled Kat Cole, the President of Cinnabon, in an article entitled “Questioning Success More Than Failure”. While thinking about Germany’s success in the World Cup I was intrigued when Bryant quoted Cole for the following, “I’ve learned to question success a lot more than failure. I’ll ask more questions when sales are up than I do when they’re down. I ask more questions when things seem to be moving smoothly, because I’m thinking: “There’s got to be something I don’t know. There’s always something.” This approach means that people don’t feel beat up for failing, but they should feel very concerned if they don’t understand why they’re successful. I made mistakes over the years that taught me to ask those questions.”
Both of these perspectives can be very useful for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act compliance practitioner. Just as it is axiom that your compliance program should not be static but dynamic and evolving, what are you learning from your compliance failures and compliance successes? Most lawyers and compliance practitioners can review root cause/analyses to help determine how a compliance failure might have arisen. But how many are looking at your compliance successes. By this I do not mean celebrating your compliance successes but performing the same type of root cause/analyses to determine how a fact pattern arose but was prevented from becoming a full-blown FCPA violation. If something came in through the hotline, did you interview the whistleblower about what caused them to have confidence to report in that manner? Did you look at the training delivered to the whistleblowing employee? How about their supervisor? Did you interview that supervisor to see how he or she got the message out to not only use the hotline but stress the message of no retaliation?
In her interview Cole put it another way when she said, “I learned to make sure I take the full authority of my role. When I haven’t, I knew it immediately. And so I keep a keen eye out for whether my young leaders are forgoing an opportunity to lead. Their intentions might be right but the action and outcome are wrong. I remind people that they were hired for their point of view: “I want 100 percent of your brain 100 percent of the time, and there is a respectful way to communicate and disagree. Please do not hold back, because I want 100 percent of my investment in you.””
For the compliance practitioner, I found Cole’s insights useful in other areas. Although given in the context of ambitious employees who might want to succeed at Cinnabon, I found them to be useful in compliance as well. “First, I talk about being incredibly coachable, because we all give each other feedback. If you want to move up, you’ve got to get as many inputs as possible to continue to develop. Second, take your development into your own hands and be curious about the entire company. If there’s something you want to learn, go learn it. The structure here is like a start-up. Then I talk about productive achievers and destructive achievers, and that I only promote and support productive achievers. And that’s about mentoring and helping others while you are delivering results.
Germany is the new king of the soccer world. Long live the King, at least until the next World Cup. The lessons that Germany took to heart in the wake of its disaster in Euro 2000 directly led to it hoisting the trophy this year. Conversely, Brazil rested on its considerable laurels and now must live with the ignominy of a 7-1 shellacking, probably for the rest of the country’s collective memory. For a compliance program to be effective it must evolve. As Wahl’s Sports Illustrated article makes clear, lessons can be learned and evolution made from failure. However, as Bryant’s Corner Office article interview of Cole makes clear as well, lessons can be learned from successes as well.
Perhaps that is the final lesson from the 2014 World Cup…
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014