In a crisis, you may witness vastly different behavior from one person to the next. Calvin London draws parallels between the popular Australian coin-flipping game “Two-up,” and the wide range of human responses to tough times.
In the land Down Under, there is a game that is part of our limited cultural history called “Two-up.” It is like flipping a coin, but with a twist: There are two coins. Perhaps you have heard the term “come in, spinner?”
Two-up is a traditional Australian game played on Anzac Day in pubs and Returned and Services League (RSL) clubs across the country – but on most other days of the year, it is illegal. The coins must fly three metres into the air, not touch the roof and have to fall within a ring on the ground. Two heads means the spinner wins. Two tails means the spinner loses their bet and the right to spin. Odds means the spinner throws again.
The game became popular in the 18th century among poor English and Irish citizens, and by the 1850s, the game was being played on the goldfields in Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. In World War I, Australian soldiers played the game in trenches and on troop ships. It was also played to celebrate the return of the soldiers; therefore, Two-up has a strong association with Anzac Day, which was recently celebrated in Australia (April 25).
So now that you have had a quirky lesson in Australian history, what does that have to do with compliance?
It occurred to me observing the compliance behavior and culture of people experiencing the unprecedented “life of isolation” that there are some great examples coming out of this situation that we can use in compliance training, with the fall of the coins symbolizing the way different people react. We have random acts of kindness like we have not seen for a while (two heads), some absolutely despicable acts of selfishness and noncompliance, (two tails) and whole range of mixed behavior in between, with people genuinely trying to do the right thing but not quite getting there because of a lack of understanding – an attitude that says I will “play the game,” but disagree.
As I indicated, the game of Two-up is thought to have originated in England and Ireland and, much like COVD-19 (remember: Australia is an island), it was brought into the country. This has created strong biases toward foreign people in some areas, where people entering the country are blamed for “bringing the virus with them.” Case in point: the controversy over the ill-fated Ruby Princess passengers and crew. In Tasmania (that tiny blob at the bottom of Australia), for example, their current 205 cases are thought by the Australian Chief Medical Examiner to have originated from a single passenger off the Ruby Princess.
Two-up is illegal to play because it is considered unregulated gambling, except if it is Anzac Day or Pacific Day (August 15) or Remembrance Day New South Wales, but only after 12 p.m., or in Broken Hill, which has a special licence from the NSW government permitting Two-up to be played all year round.
Point being, just like with Two-up (at least in Australia), early on in enforced isolation measures, people were very unclear as to what was and what was not permitted. Compliance directives can sometimes be like this. Confusion can cause disbelief and, unless checked, can lead to unintentional noncompliance. The importance of having consistent messages when dealing with significant change has been self-evident in the COVID-19 situation, and we should learn from this experience.
Tails Up – You Lose
Just like spinning two tails in Two-up, there have been the “lose” cases: predictable acts of selfishness, greed and examples of those just waiting for an opportunity to prey on the innocent or confused.
We would be naive to think everyone would play “the good citizen” role in a time of crisis; those who practice compliance as a profession will know all too well there are always those ready to capitalize on a bad situation. In Australia last week, there were two examples I found particularly hard to accept.
The first was the person who stole a little girl’s puppy from her backyard. The girl, who had been finding it difficult to deal with isolation, was given the puppy as an early birthday present by her parents. But two days before her birthday, someone stole her new best friend.
The second is even worse, and in my mind, it shows a total disregard for laws or rules (read: policies and procedures). An 18-year-old youth was caught breaking the isolation rules and openly drinking with his mates in public. This was not the first, nor the second, nor even the third, but the fifth time he had been caught. When arrested by police, he taunted them, saying, “don’t come near or I will spit on you; I have the virus!” The sad part about this was that when he faced the judge, he was let off because the judge took pity on him!
Far be it from me to criticize the judicial system, but isn’t this like so many examples of bribery and corruption in the compliance world? Someone is caught doing the wrong thing, only to be let off with a slap on the wrist. What sort of an example does this set for others contemplating similar behavior? And we wonder why progress to correct noncompliance in the corporate world is slow.
Mixed Bag (Heads and Tails)
In Two-up, a head and a tail together is neither a win nor a loss, but a “throw again.” The bulk of the population (certainly where I live) have gone along with the isolation. After a rocky start of panic buying, most people have settled into a “new norm.” Much like when a new policy is introduced, there is a period of familiarization. In the case of COVID-19, it has been interesting to see those people totally committed with their gloves, face masks and maintaining at least the minimum distance, hustling to get done what they need to before they retreat into the shelter of their homes.
Then there are those that go along with the distancing rules but still do not quite get the severity of the situation and are almost ready to issue a challenge to someone to “cross their path” so they can express their displeasure about being told what to do. Finally, a third group: Those who are almost paralyzed to do anything because their lack of understanding has created a situation that is far worse than what they can deal with – the end result being that they do nothing.
This is similar to the responses of different groups of people to policy changes or shifts to a new norm in a company. The challenge for compliance individuals is to convert the middle group by using as examples of those that embraced the change all the while trying to control those that have complete disdain for change.
Heads Up – You Win!
One final analogy using our game of Two-up: There are examples of people rising above and beyond the situation and demonstrating what I call “random acts of kindness.” These people are the essence of successful change and should be sought out in any exercise of compliance change. They are the ones who that take a bad situation and somehow turn it into an opportunity to be admired.
These random acts of kindness play out in a myriad of ways, but here are three:
- I know of many people who have taken meals to an elderly couple or person living on their own and left it on their doorstep so that they can have a little bit of change and excitement in otherwise troubling times when they can’t go out.
- This we can all do: Call someone who lives alone; check to make sure they are OK, and see if there is anything they need.
- I heard of a person who contacted their friend and discovered they were feeling particularly depressed. The friend worked in a hospital and spent their day dealing with the problems of others resulting from COVID, as many people are doing in this crisis. This person was so moved that they approached their boss, who runs a business associated with wellness products, with an idea. The end result was that the company specially prepared and put together 300 wellness packs for her friends and co-workers in the hospital.
Random acts of kindness.
As compliance professionals, we can draw on our environment – good or bad – and find practical examples that can be used to demonstrate the good and bad of compliance, ethical behavior and positive culture. Even in times such as these, the good (and bad) in people comes through, and these examples make potent stories to demonstrate your compliance point.
Oh, and if you are stuck at home looking for a spark to brighten up your day, maybe get two coins and perfect the art of Two-up. Come in, spinner!