Yesterday, I used the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and its continuing legacy even up until today to introduce a two-part series about ‘Blue Ocean Leadership’. The assassination and some of its legacies were detailed in an article in the March 22 edition of the Financial Times (FT) in a piece by Simon Kuper entitled, ‘The crossroads of history”. In this article, Kuper wrote about his return to modern day Sarajevo “to try and understand his act in its local context – the context both of 1914 and 2104.” I think that Kuper did come to some understanding through his reporting, which I found to be first rate.
Yesterday I reviewed the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled “Blue Ocean Leadership”, which I found to be one of the most interesting and perhaps even game-changing discussions on how to be a more effective leader that I have ever read or heard about. In Part I I wrote about what ‘Blue Ocean Leadership’ is and how it differs from conventional leadership. Today, I will review the strategies of how to execute this type of leadership and explore its implications for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.
I was extraordinarily gratified to see that the authors believe that something akin to the Fair Process Doctrine should be used to address over-coming resistance to changing over to ‘Blue Ocean Leadership’. The Fair Process Doctrine recognizes that there are fair procedures, not arbitrary ones, in a process involving rights. People are more willing to accept negative, unfavorable, and non-preferred outcomes when they are arrived at by processes and procedures that are perceived as fair by employees. This means that that employees will commit to a manager’s decision—even one they disagree with—if they believe that the process the manager used to make the decision was fair.
The authors write “the gift that fair process confers is trust and, hence, voluntary cooperation, a quality vital to the leader-follower relationship. Anyone who has ever worked in an organization understands how important trust is. If you trust the process and the people you work for, you’re willing to go the extra mile and give your best. If you don’t trust them, you’ll stick to the letter of the law that binds your contract with the organization and devote your energy to protecting your position and fighting over turf rather than to winning customers and creating value. Not only will your abilities be wasted, but they will often work against your organization’s performance.”
The authors have a somewhat different formulation for fair process when they say that it includes “engagement, explanation and expectation clarity.” Further, the authors say “the leadership development context, the application of fair process achieves buy-in and ownership of the to-be Leadership Profiles and builds trust, preparing the ground for implementation.” The authors suggest four steps for implementing ‘Blue Ocean Leadership’.
Step 1 - Respected senior managers should spearhead the effort. Nothing speaks to company employees more than who is leading an initiative. The authors state, “strongly signals the importance of the initiative, which makes people at all levels feel respected and gives senior managers a visceral sense of what actions are needed to create a step change in leadership performance.”
Step 2 - Engaging the company’s rank and file in defining what leaders should do. This is the engagement prong of the fair process doctrine. If there is engagement, employees will “feel more deeply engaged with their leaders, because they have greater ownership of what their leaders are doing.”
Step 3 - Giving employees a say in the final decision. This allows a vertical slice of the organization, from the top to bottom to have a say in what the leadership profiles will be going forward. This comes though give and take and if senior management does not accept a proffered leadership profile, it must be prepared to defend its decision, through a “clear, sound explanation of their decision.”
Step 4 – Ease in assessment of whether expectations are being met and in monitoring progress. The authors suggest no less than monthly feedback “between leaders and their direct reports help the organization check whether it’s making headway.” The authors write that such a timeframe, will “keep leaders honest, motivate them to continue with change, and build confidence in both the process and the sincerity of the leaders. By collecting feedback from those meetings, top management can assess how rapidly leaders are making the shift from their as-is to their to-be Leadership Profiles, which becomes a key input in annual performance evaluations.”
There are many tangible benefits that the authors article discuss and those discussions can lead directly to the elimination of actions that senior management invest their time in. Even if some actions and activities cannot be entirely eliminated, they can be reduced. Conversely, these types of discussions can show senior management what acts and activities should be raised above their current level. Finally, this type of leadership protocol can show leaders the types of activities they should be engaging in that they are not currently undertaking.
For the compliance practitioner I think there are several important lessons and implications, which can be drawn from this article. Rather than start with the CCO, I want to take the opposite approach and begin with the compliance practitioner who is on the frontline. The clearest lesson from this scholarship is to “serve your customers, not the boss.” This means should try to eliminate your queries up the chain and try to handle direct issues yourself and reduce seeking approval for decisions. Frontline compliance practitioners need to raise more relevant compliance training and information to the business units or geographic areas they support. Finally, the frontline compliance practitioners should celebrate compliance successes locally.
For the mid-level compliance manager, they strive for ‘more coaching and less control’ from senior management. This means elimination of frequent requests for detailed progress reports on initiatives and programs. Further, there should be a reduction of requirements and review of justifications for decisions from the frontline compliance practitioners. Mid-level compliance practitioners should strive to not only understand but also explain compliance strategy clearly and empower frontline compliance practitioners to stretch themselves through more effective coaching. Finally, mid-level compliance managers should work to set performance goals together, share best practices across teams, business units and geographic regions and align rewards with performance.
The key for senior level compliance practitioners is to move from the day-to-day work to the bigger picture of compliance. As much as possible, senior compliance managers need to stop operational problem solving and putting out fires. If senior compliance managers cannot fully eliminate such actions, they should try and reduce the number of meetings dealing with operations improvement but also try and reduce the monitoring and coordination of middle management. Issues that senior compliance managers should try and raise up in activities awareness include dealing with poor performance, coaching and motivating their direct reports, creating a compelling strategy and then clearly communicating that strategy. Finally, senior compliance managers should develop a compliance agenda for the future (think Stephen Martin’s 1-3-5 year strategy) and advance a process for implementation of continual assessment and improvement of that strategy.
The authors write, “We never cease to be amazed by the talent and energy we see in the organizations we study. Sadly, we are equally amazed by how much of it is squandered by poor leadership. Blue ocean leadership can help put an end to that.” They put forward “a concrete, visual framework in which they can surface and discuss the improvements leaders need to make. The fairness of the process makes the implementation and monitoring of those changes far easier than in traditional top-down approaches. Moreover, blue ocean leadership achieves a transformation with less time and effort, because leaders are not trying to alter who they are and break the habits of a lifetime. They are simply changing the tasks they carry out. Better yet, one of the strengths of blue ocean leadership is its scalability. You don’t have to wait for your company’s top leadership to launch this process. Whatever management level you belong to, you can awaken the sleeping potential of your people by taking them through the four steps.”
I found their article to be quite compelling. I hope that you will consider some or all of these suggestions as a way to set up you and your compliance team to become Blue Ocean Leaders and un-tap the potential of your entire compliance team.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014