FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

February 17, 2015

Gary Owens, Laugh-In and Accountability in Your Compliance Program

Gary OwensIf you were alive at all during the 1960s, you will recall that one of the cultural phenomenon’s was NBC’s television show Laugh-In. It was brought to you from the NBC studios in beautiful downtown Burbank and featured one very droll player, who always played himself, Gary Owens, as the show’s announcer – Gary Owens. Owens died last week and I was surprised but pleased to learn in reading his obituary in the New York Times (NYT) that he was also the voice for several cartoon characters in the Jay Ward stable (home of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and he was the voice of Space Ghost which had a renaissance during the early years of the Cartoon Network.

I thought about Owens’ role on Laugh-In not only as the straight man but also the character, who in many ways brought accountability to the manic show when I read this week’s article by Adam Bryant in his NYT Corner Office column, entitled “Making a Habit of Accountability”, which featured his interview of Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tata Consulting Services. Chandrasekaran was raised on a farm and one of the things that he learned early on from his farmer father was “the value of money and the value of time. So he made us account for things. It wasn’t that there was a right or wrong way, but he wanted us to be accountable for what we did.”

I considered this concept of accountability in your best practices anti-corruption compliance program, whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other program. With the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent pronouncements that it will more aggressively prosecute individuals for FCPA violations, perhaps companies should emphasize accountability more in their compliance programs. By doing so, perhaps employees might understand that there really is their personal liberty on the line when they engage in something which might even approach a FCPA violation. Further, by emphasizing personal accountability, companies could demonstrate more pro-active approaches to compliance that the DOJ wants to see going forward.

Chandrasekaran’s remarks went beyond simply emphasizing personal accountability. He also spoke about accountability in the context of a company’s overall culture. In particular I found his thoughts about accountability, learning and culture quite insightful. He said, “Learning cannot be achieved by mandate. It has to be achieved by culture.” He added, “In our executive team meetings, we share experiences and case studies about failures and successes.”

But beyond simply this insight there should also be accountability for helping others achieve the company’s overall goals. While he did not limit it to compliance, I still found it applicable to a best practice compliance regime when he said, “Everybody has to take some accountability for other people, and look for ways to make small contributions to help others. Looking after people has to become everybody’s responsibility. Innovation and caring for people are cultures; they are not departments.” He did admit that such a change would not happen overnight and indeed he has been emphasizing this message for five years at Tata because “It takes time to build that culture.”

Chandrasekaran also had an insight into compliance through his views on company structure. Tata is a flat organization, with multiple business units. He did this so the largest number of employees would feel empowered to make decisions and work collaboratively. While I recognize that such views might be antithetical to US based companies with a more ‘command and control’ approach, Chandrasekaran explained that the leaders of those units are expected “to work together. We said the power of our company will be driven by how well they work together. In some of our bigger monthly meetings, we will start with people presenting examples of their collaborations.”

I considered all of the above in the greater context of a best practices anti-corruption compliance program. One of the things that the FCPA Guidance emphasized was the inter-relatedness of each component of your compliance program. While you might have greater risk in the area of third parties or doing business in certain areas of the world where there are higher perceptions of corruption, you should not pick and choose what prongs of a compliance program you implement. Each step builds upon one another and should all point to accountability for your actions in decision-making calculus for business decisions and their implementations.

However the concept of accountability is not one that is spelled out in the FCPA Guidance or in any formulation of a best practices compliance regime. Yet it is clear that accountability is something that underlies what a compliance program is trying to achieve. Just as Chandrasekaran learned early on there is a value to things; there is a value to time and there is a value to money. So they should be accounted for in the way you do business.

This might best be described as oversight of your compliance program. The issue your company should focus on here is whether employees are accountable within the ambit of your compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are accountable to the compliance program.

Two mechanisms to do so are through the techniques of monitoring, which is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance programs in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis. A second tool is auditing, which is generally viewed as a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region or market sector during a particular timeframe in order to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks, particularly as seen in financial records. However, you should not assume that because your company conducts audits that it is effectively monitoring. A robust program should include separate functions for auditing and monitoring. While unique in protocol, however, the two functions are related and can operate in tandem. Monitoring activities can sometimes lead to audits. For instance if you notice a trend of suspicious payments in recent monitoring reports from Indonesia, it may be time to conduct an audit of those operations to further investigate the issue.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to hold employees accountable to doing business under your compliance regime and Code of Conduct. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. While it may seem that accountability means looking over every employees shoulder, it should not simply be seen as the workplace equivalent of parental oversight. Chandrasekaran explained that how you conduct yourself at work can have a huge impact on other employees. He said, “it’s sometimes very hard to imagine, early in your career, how much impact you can have. If you’re in a job and in an organization, the impact you can make is huge, because it’s all about being part of a group that’s driving impact. So look for those opportunities.” If you look for ways to demonstrate accountability you can influence a wide variety of others going forward.

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, 2015

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