FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

October 18, 2012

Put Boots on the Ground to Build Relationships

I have just returned from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) 2012 National Conference. It was certainly an excellent event and kudos to Roy Snell, Adam Turtlebaub, Lizza Catalano and the entire SCCE team and all of the temporary workers they hired in Las Vegas to make the conference such a success. There were over 1200 attendees and numerous vendors that participate in the compliance ethics arena who added a buzz of excitement as they discussed many of their cutting edge products and services to us.

While it was not a formal theme of the Conference, one of the key things that almost every speaker I heard emphasized was that the compliance practitioner had to get out of the office and into the field. Online training is certainly a useful tool for large multi-national organizations but nothing beats in person training. Compliance officers need to get out and develop relationships so that employees will be more open to helping them keep the company running in a compliant manner.

I thought about the messages I heard at the SCCE conference on getting out in the field while reading an article in the Houston Business Journal, entitled “All good businesses are built on personal relationship”, by Bruce Rector. Rector’s thesis is that “All business is, in the final analysis, about people – and therefore about relationships.” At the end of the day, compliance, like business is about people and that means it is about relationships. But perhaps more importantly, is the development of personal relationships. As Rector correctly pointed out, if there are no relationships, there are no people and if there are no people, there exists no business. Rector gave three points to help foster business relationships which I thought might also help the compliance practitioner foster relationships to help move forward compliance within an organization.

I.                   Recognize that if you have a relationship problem in compliance, you might be the problem.

We compliance practitioners sometimes have a difficult time recognizing that we might be part of the problems that we face every day. We usually believe that it is the rest of the company who do not want to do business in a compliant manner or who cannot seem to do so. But being the company leaders in compliance, it is incumbent on us to “take accountability for the situation, stop avoiding it and deal with it.” As Rector points out, if you avoid a problem or do not address it “you are contributing to its perpetuation.” Moreover, you may be allowing conduct to occur which is not  in line with your company’s ethical values, your Code of Conduct or your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or Bribery Act anti-corruption compliance program.

In other words, as the compliance practitioner, you need to step up and deal with the problem. Rector believes that many times “these issues flow out of relationship issues that need to be addressed.” There is no better way to strengthen a relationship than to get out of your office and get into the field. Go do some training, go meet with the Executive Leadership Team (ELT). One of my favorite activities was to simply visit another region, outside the US, and office there for a week or two. The key is to be proactive to create, repair or maintain the relationship because, as Rector notes, “if you are aware of the [relationship] problem and not dealing with the [relationship] problem, you are a part of the [relationship] problem.”

II.                Be absolutely clear in your communications.

Rector believes that “Difficulty often occurs because of murky communication from management.” The same is true for communication from a Compliance Department. I believe that this all starts with your Code of Conduct and your written FCPA/Bribery Act policy and procedures. Believe it or not there are a good many folks out in the field who are trying to do the right thing. While most Code of Conduct are now written in plain English, which can be understood by the non-lawyer, the same is not always true for compliance policies and procedures. They are often written by lawyers for lawyers. So start with the base line documents that your employees will be trying to follow and make sure that these documents are clear and understandable.

Additionally, Rector makes clear that as a compliance practitioner, when you deal with your employee base, “be crystal clear in stating your goals and expectations.” Rector believes that employees will “step up to meet the challenge that is clearly put before them.” So if you need information or documents for your survey or other purposes, make clear what you need. Do not immediately jump to the conclusion that people are trying to hide things from you if they do not fully respond to your communication because you must remember, how they interpret informs their understanding of the communication.

III.             Manage expectations properly.

The last line of point II leads to Rector’s third point, which is no matter who or what group you are dealing with, you must set “expectations appropriately”. This is true for the compliance practitioner whether you are dealing with third party vendors in the Supply Chain, agents and other foreign business representatives, your employee base, senior management or the Board of Directors. You must set the expectation but if something occurs that materially impacts these expectations, you “must immediately communicate to the person or business affected.” For, as Rector believes, “Nothing will detail a business relationship – or any relationship, actually – more than blindsiding someone with bad news that has been withheld for some time.” By properly managing the expectations of the company’s compliance group with the relationships that you have established in the company, you will make the doing of compliance less stressful for all involved.

The theme that I heard at the SCCE 2012 National Conference about getting out into the field seemed to tie directly into Rector’s advice on building relationships. The compliance practitioner works through the business folks because it is these people who are doing the business of the company. It is these people who are interacting and transacting business with foreign government officials and employees of state owned enterprises. It is the business unit people who make the decisions on who to hire as an agent or representative or which vendor should act as a customs broker or visa processor. We in compliance are there to support, and be subject matter experts, but it’s the business guys who are on the front line. So create and maintain your relationships with them and remember that if you have a relationship problem with someone else and you are not rectifying the problem, you are a part of the problem.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2012

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