“Happy talk” amounts to empty words absent a frank, honest discussion of the issues. Michael Volkov explains one reason why so few compliance programs measure up.
Chief compliance officers are heroes. They labor every day to advance a company’s ethics and compliance program without much recognition, with few resources and with well-known gaps in their programs.
CCOs live by a credo – they risk-rank and prioritize all their activities (hopefully) on an ongoing basis. It is a job similar to our cats and dogs chasing their own tails: They will never succeed and rest, because once they have achieved something, there is much more work to do to ensure an evolving and successful program.
But let’s have a candid discussion, and let’s all take a little truth serum. I know it is hard and unfair in this era of fake news when dishonesty surrounds us almost every day, but let’s reserve a little space for an honest conversation.
Your compliance program does not meet the requirements for an “effective” program as set forth in the DOJ and OFAC guidance documents, nor does it satisfy best practices. There, I said it.
I have been to numerous compliance conferences through the years and have been struck by the fact that company compliance officials regularly present their compliance program as just dandy – just a smooth operating machine. Everyone in the room knows that such claims are not true, but somehow, we allow this to continue. Why?
CCOs are fantastic motivators because they believe in what they do. They know deep down they are living in a land of risks and gaps in their compliance programs. But they are continuously, with optimism, seeking to advance their program, embrace new ideas and build more effective strategies. For this, the compliance profession stands out for its leadership and perseverance.
But that is not the important point that concerns me. A CCO has to be honest internally with key stakeholders. “Happy talk” does not substitute for motivation and a realistic appraisal of what needs to be done to advance a compliance program.
A CCO has to speak with honesty and clarity before the board or committee, senior management and key internal stakeholders. Fudging on the optimistic side of the issues is dangerous and can have serious repercussions to a corporate culture and its commitment to integrity.
I have observed too many board and senior management presentations by CCOs that offer only happy talk: “We are moving forward,” “We are accomplishing our goals.” The most important part of a presentation is about the weaknesses and priorities that a CCO communicates to leadership and the board. Without honesty, real issues will not be tackled.
A CCO who brings to the table an honest assessment carries integrity in his/her words. CCOs need to call it like they see it – when there are deficiencies, admit them, analyze them and prioritize the mitigation strategies. When resources are lacking, make sure to point that out. When technology investment is needed, make it clear why.
CCOs can easily be bullied by forces that oppose their need for resources, their mission and increased influence. CCOs have to rise above this; they should not alter their opinions just to keep everyone happy and avoid ruffling feathers. A compliance program built on a CCO’s misstatements and omissions will only fail in the long run. Such a strategy not only threatens the company’s culture but could easily be a black mark on a CCO’s career.
This article was republished with permission from Michael Volkov’s blog, Corruption, Crime & Compliance.