FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

June 30, 2015

Another Great Bassist Gone and Tone at the Bottom


Chris SquireAs readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan prog rock fan. So it was with deep sadness and melancholy that I read Chris Squire passed away this weekend. He was a co-founder and bassist for the seminal rock group Yes. The band was one of founders of the musical genre known as ‘progressive rock’ or simply prog rock. According to his obituary in the New York Times (NYT) he was “the only member to have played on every one of Yes’s albums and participated in every one of its tours”. The NYT went on to say that “Mr. Squire’s propulsive and often melodic bass playing was a key element of the Yes sound. A self-taught virtuoso, he has been cited as an influence by many other rock bassists.”

I found some of the tributes from his former band mates to be the most touching and telling of Squire. Bill Bruford, the band’s original drummer, said in statement quoted in the article, “He had an approach that contrasted sharply with the somewhat monotonic, immobile bass parts of today. His lines were important; counter-melodic structural components that you were as likely to go away humming as the top line melody; little stand-alone works of art in themselves.”

Daniel Kreps, writing in Rolling Stone online, in an article entitled “Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman Remember Yes’ Chris Squire”, quoted Yes co-founder Anderson for the following, “He was an amazingly unique bass player – very poetic – and had a wonderful knowledge of harmony. We met at a certain time when music was very open, and I feel blessed to have created some wonderful, adventurous, music with him. Chris had such a great sense of humor… he always said he was Darth Vader to my Obi-Wan. I always thought of him as Christopher Robin to my Winnie the Pooh.” Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was quoted in the same article “We have now lost, who for me, are the two greatest bass players classic rock has ever known. John Entwistle and now Chris,” Wakeman wrote. “There can hardly be a bass player worth his salt who hasn’t been influenced by one or both of these great players. Chris took the art of making a bass guitar into a lead instrument to another stratosphere and coupled with his showmanship and concern for every single note he played, made him something special.””

As most rock aficionados know, rock music is basically a dialogue between the bass guitar and the drums. With this base line set, the lead guitars and keyboards can go soaring off. That was certainly the formula for Yes. But as it really does not work unless the bass guitar lays the foundation for the entire band, I thought that a tribute to Squire might be a good way to visit one of the points of doing compliance not discussed often enough. While Tone-at-the-Top is almost ubiquitous, one thing not talked about consistently is the tone on the front lines of an organization. Even with a great ‘Tone-At-the-Top’ and in the middle, you cannot stop. One of the greatest challenges for a compliance practitioner is how to affect the ‘tone at the bottom’.

In a MIT Sloan Management Review article, entitled “Uncommon Sense: How to Turn Distinctive Beliefs Into Action”, authors Jules Goddard, Julian Birkinshaw and Tony Eccles looked at this issue when they explored the “often overlooked, critical source of differentiation is [a] company’s beliefs.”

One of the questions that the authors’ answer is: how to tap into this belief system? They posit a structured manner to obtain this information. By using these techniques, they believe that companies can rethink their “basic assumption and beliefs” and identify new directions for their organization. The authors listed seven approaches that they have used which I believe that the compliance practitioner can use to not only determine ‘Tone at the Bottom” but to impact that tone. They are as follows:

  1. Assemble a group. You need to assemble a group of employees who are familiar with the challenges of doing business in a compliant manner in certain geographic regions. Include both long-time employees and those who are relatively new to the organization. The authors also suggest that if you have any employees who have worked for competitors or for other organizations in your industry you include them as well.
  2. Ask questions. You should ask the members of this group to articulate their basic assumptions about your compliance model, about the management model, about your company’s business model and the future of the industry in general. Ask them to do this individually and not as a group.
  3. Categorize the responses. Now comes the work by the compliance practitioner or compliance team, as the authors believe that these assumptions will usually fall into two groups. The first is assumptions that everyone agrees upon, and these are the common beliefs. The second is those assumptions that only a few of the participants will identify – this is what the authors call the “uncommon beliefs”.
  4. Develop tests for common beliefs. For those beliefs that are labeled common – you should consider how you know these to be true? The authors caution that simply because the group may believe that the company operates in a common industry or that we “do it because it has always been done this way” is not necessarily a “hard fact.” Consider what check you could perform to verify the common belief that you desire to test. The authors note that the purpose here is to “identify the ‘common nonsense’ beliefs that everyone holds that are not actually hard laws of nature.”
  5. Develop tests for uncommon beliefs. Here the authors suggest that you need to consider why some people think that these beliefs are true. What is the information or experience that they have drawn upon? Is there any way for you to test these uncommon beliefs?
  6. Reassemble the original group. You should reassemble the original group and have them consider the beliefs that were articulated by them individually in the context of your compliance model and how both your company and your industry do business. Lead a discussion that attempts to identify any assumptions or beliefs that “are quite possibly wrong, but worth experimenting with anyway.”
  7. List of Experiments to perform. The authors believe that the outcome of the first six steps will be “a list of possible experiments [tests] to conduct” to determine the validity of the common and uncommon beliefs. These tests can be accomplished in the regular course of business, through a special project with a special team and separate budget. You should agree on the testing process and review your testing assumptions throughout the process. This process can and should take some time so do not set yourself such a tight time frame that it cannot be fully matured.

The bottom line is that not only must a company ‘talk-the-talk’ of compliance but it must also ‘walk-the-walk’ of compliance. Donna Boehme says that it’s really about the culture of compliance in your organization. Put another way, as Mike Volkov said, in an article entitled “Mood in the Middle Versus Tone at the Top”, “Even when a company does all the right things at the senior management level, the real issue is whether or not that culture has embedded itself in middle and lower management. A company’s culture is reflected in the values and beliefs that exist throughout the company.” You must find a way to articulate and then drive the message of ethical values and doing business in compliance with such anti-corruption laws from the top down, throughout your organization.

So thanks for the tunes and memories Chris while I Keep Calm and Listen to Prog Rock.

Keep Calm and Listen to Prog Rock

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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