I have been studying the legend of King Arthur and thought it would be good idea to have a week of blog posts around the legend of King Arthur, the Roundtable and his knights. Today I begin with King Arthur and some leadership lessons that might apply to a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance practitioner or others who might be responsible for an anti-corruption compliance program based on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or similar anti-bribery law.
According to the legends, King Arthur achieved quite a bit in one lifetime. He, established a kingdom, ruled his castle, Camelot and brought peace and order to the land based on law, justice, and morality. He founded an order known as the Knights of the Round Table where in all knights are seated as equals around the table, symbolizing equality, unity, and oneness. Nicole Lastimado, in a blog post entitled “Characteristics of a Good Leader :)”, identified five characteristics that she believed made Arthur a good leader.
Adapting Lastimado King Arthur was (1) Honest, in that he displayed sincerity, integrity, and candor in his actions. (2) Intelligent, because he read and studied. (3) Courageous, because he had the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. (4) Imaginative because he adapted by making timely and appropriate changes in his thinking, plans, and methods. Finally, (5) Inspiring, because through demonstrating confidence, he inspired his knights and those in his Kingdom to reach for new heights. I would add as a separate category that Arthur led from the front.
I thought about those qualities when I read a couple of recent articles in the Houston Chronicle. The first was by the Chronicle Business Columnist, L. M. Sixel, entitled “Leaders possess the keys to safety”, and the second was an Op-Ed entitled “Trust Shaken”. Both articles discussed corporate issues that have led to catastrophic injuries or even deaths and more importantly how the entities involved reacted. The first article discussed safety at the workplace and the second health issues in the processing of food products.
In her article Sixel, wrote, “A company truly interesting in making sure its workers are safe has to come up with ways to make it easy and risk-free to bring up potential safety problems.” Moreover, the corporate attitude which fosters this “starts with leadership.” She cited to Frank Reiner, the president of the Chlorine Institute, who recently said in a speech to the group’s annual conference in Houston “You have to eliminate the fear.” Additionally, “Once the cause is identified, similar accidents can be prevented, he said. The message that people are free to come forward to talk about what went wrong and why has to come from the top down. Identifying problems not only is everyone’s responsibility but also a companywide expectation.”
Equally important is for a company to learn from its mistakes. Obviously there should be a root cause analysis after a disaster. At the same conference, the Keynote Speaker, John E. Michel, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general and author of The Art of Positive Leadership: Becoming a Person Worth Following, said “After a disaster, there is a big investigation to find out why it happened and fix the problem before it can happen again. Sometimes, whole fleets are grounded after an airline crash.” However Michel noted that it is important to keep learning even if there is no disaster. Michel “likes to pay attention to “near misses” and learn from the times things could have gone horribly wrong but didn’t” and that “There are debriefing sessions even when things go well on a flight mission and there are always tweaks to be made.”
Another speaker at the conference Mark Briggs, area director of the Houston South office for OSHA, noted it was important for employees to feel their suggestions and comments around safety are considered by management, saying “You have to show you care and that’s its not just a one-month project.” If management shows that it takes employee recommendations around safety seriously, it will help employees down the chain feel more secure about bringing them to management’s attention.
The Chronicle Op-Ed piece focused on one of the most beloved institutions in the great state of Texas – Blue Bell Ice Cream. Unfortunately for Blue Bell, in March there were five cases of listeria in Kansas, linked to a Blue Bell plant. Three of those persons died, “although a Kansas health official stated that the listeriosis was not the cause of death.” The Chronicle piece noted that after that initial discovery, “multiple strains of listeria have been found in its Brenham and Oklahoma plants, almost 500 miles apart, according to the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention]. Possible explanations include lax safety standards, extremely bad luck striking twice or some undisclosed manufacturing issue.”
A The Texas Tribune article by Terri Langford, entitled “State Health Tests Prodded Blue Bell Recall”, said, “The crisis for Blue Bell began on March 13, when Kansas officials determined that Listeria-tainted portions of the company’s ice cream made it into products served to five hospital patients between January 2014 and January 2015. Of the five who became ill, three died. By March 24, Kansas officials traced the source of the listeria to Blue Bell’s plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., built by the Texas company in 1992. On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control had traced Blue Bell’s Listeria strain to six other patients going back to 2010. Four had been hospitalized in Texas for unrelated problems when they became sick from listeria. Five days later, on April 8, the CDC had identified two clusters of Blue Bell listeria victims. The strains were traced to the plants in Oklahoma and Texas.”
Yet it was not until Blue Bell was notified by a representative from the Texas Department of State Health Services, that “lab tests on two Blue Bell ice cream flavors — Mint Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — came back “presumptive positive” for the deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes” that the company announced it was pulling product from its shelves for testing.
What are the lessons from for the CCO or compliance practitioner? You should channel your inner King Arthur and lead. You have to lead management to understand that one of the best sources of information on your own business is your employees. There is a reason the FCPA Guidance lists internal reporting as one of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program. You must give employees a way to report misconduct and then you must use that information to investigate and communicate to employees going forward. If there are lessons to be learned use those lessons for in-house compliance training. If a true catastrophe or disaster befalls the company, do not wait to remediate. Do so as soon as is practicable, not when the government calls.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015