7 Habits for compliance professionals

Stephen R. Covey was one of the most prominent authors of leadership, self-improvement, and motivational books and speeches of the 20th century. Though the businessman, author, educator, and speaker passed away in 2012, his well-known writings are still influential and insightful for the current generation of managers, students, and thinkers. The teachings from Covey’s books can be applied in many fields of life – business, family, religion, and community, lending heavily to his continued popularity with a wide variety of people. Not simply positioned as self-help, Covey emphasized ethics and distinct definitions of both values and principles, as separate concepts that independently influence people’s behaviors and decision-making.

Due to these emphases, Covey’s writing is specifically interesting and useful for compliance professionals looking for a novel way to approach imbedding into a corporate culture both individual values – which one could see as ethics or morality – and organizational principles – which one could see as compliance program requirements and goals. Covey’s teachings often touch upon the value of inner success, rejecting external competitive measures as the true sign of achievement in favor of emphasizing personal mission statements and progressive goal-setting to allow an individual or an organization to go from immature dependence, through self-sufficient independence, into the higher state of functioning interdependence with others. This strategic vision has a high affinity with the sort of planning compliance officers must do to encourage a successful culture of compliance.

Arguably, Covey’s best-known book is the worldwide best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book is not only a worldwide best-seller that gains new fans every year for its simple and timeless insights on how to work toward, achieve, and sustain inner success, but it is also the Covey book which is most applicable for compliance professionals to study and take into consideration in the course of their work.

Taken individually, each of the 7 Habits endorses values and principles and encourages conduct in support of those, which are useful for compliance risk awareness both in planning program priorities by the compliance officer as well as encouraging awareness and fostering integrity for individuals and organizations.

Steven R. Covey’s famous 7 Habits, annotated with suggestions for their applicability to corporate compliance and ethics programs, are as follows:

  1. Be Proactive – This is the first of three Habits that focus on maturing from dependence to independence, a process also referred to by Covey as self-mastery. This Habit introduces the concepts of Circle of Influence, one’s effective community – in a business perspective, partners, stakeholders, and clients or served parties – and Circle of Concern, where problems happen and dysfunction or distrust can stymy success and achievement.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – Simply put, this Habit calls upon individuals and organizations to be devoted planners. Once the plan is set, apply with dedication to following it, in on-going and careful review of its efficacy and currency. Planning is a fundamental component of any successful compliance program. Setting goals and priorities for the program is necessary to encourage informed business buy-in and checking these goals and priorities on a continuous basis helps to keep them grounded in reality and responsive to evolving business and regulatory demands.
  3. Put First Things First – This Habit identifies the difference between leadership and management, a crucial dichotomy for the encouragement of both ethical leadership and adequate supervision, which are equally necessary in order to model conduct expectations and ensure progress in one’s mission. Covey says that leadership in society requires personal vision and for the individual to embrace the importance of character ethic, or internal personal qualities such as ethics, honesty, and loyalty, rather than personality ethic, or external personal qualities such as popularity or other short-term human interaction traits.
  4. Think WinWin – This is the first of three Habits that focus on interdependence, offering tips for working with others. In a service function such as compliance, working together effectively to establish a consistent and open relationship-based approach to risk management is crucial. Likewise, it is important for individuals to appreciate the importance of interdependence also, to see that their individual actions are significant in the overall scheme of the compliance program and to appreciate the importance of accountability, driving them to discuss dilemmas and enhance understanding. Finally, from an organizational perspective interdependence is also very important, driving home the cultural significance of corporate social responsibility and even political engagement in establishing corporate values and creating an identity and purpose in society.
  5. See First to Understand, Then to be Understood – This Habit focuses on the importance of listening for genuine understanding in order to build trust and promote personal credibility. Of particular importance are the Greek philosophy concepts of Ethos, the trust individuals inspire or in Covey’s words their Emotional Bank Accounts; Pathos, aligning and communicating with others and their own emotional trust; and Logos, the reasoning that must be included in communicating with and considering the trustworthiness of others, while projecting your own. Check back in the future for an blog post dedicated to the important concept of Emotional Bank Accounts.
  6. Synergize – This Habit reinforces the key interdependent competency of teamwork. Set goals together and achieve and maintain them together as well. In compliance terms, establishing trust and transparency as key values requires a cooperative commitment to supporting these individual values in the organizational principles that are established, be it via a corporate mission statement or through business strategy and growth plans.
  7. Sharpen the Saw – This final Habit focuses on personal and interpersonal continuous improvement. Balance is key to contended success in both life and business; no achievement attained with disrespect for resources it requires can be sustainable. In order to be truly successful, renewal and sustainability are the most important priorities. Continuous improvement for a compliance program or a company’s corporate values requires continuing risk re-assessments and a rolling plan for how to implement and refine compliance planning and communication.

For an in-depth look at Stephen R. Covey’s work and legacy, check out this official website maintained by the Covey Family. And for an entertaining take on the book, watch this animated book review of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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