Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Compliance and Stephen R. Covey’s “emotional bank accounts”

Stephen R. Covey’s famed self-development insights can also be applied to compliance and ethics. The acclaimed author of the worldwide best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has provided motivation to managers, students, and progressive people for many years. Covey’s work was far more than just a self-help guide or a management how-to. With his emphasis on character ethic as well as values and principles, Covey created an interesting body of work that can be broadly used in crafting the business mission statements he endorses so heartily, from a compliance and ethics and perspective.

This post takes an in-depth look at each one of Covey’s 7 Habits to explore the applicability of each one for the work and goals of compliance professionals. All seven of the habits encourage conduct that is positive and productive for compliance risk awareness. Inner success, sustainable and functional interdependence, and strategic, purpose-driven vision are just some examples of the compliance culture qualities that the 7 Habits consistently endorse. Trustworthiness, credibility, and honesty are the cornerstones of individual relationships and organizational identities in Covey’s system.

Today’s post will focus on Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. This habit is about listening and then feeding-forward what is heard for mutual, active understanding.   According to Covey, the trust individuals inspire others to have in them is referred to as an “emotional bank account.” Credits must be accrued in these accounts through communications, relationships, and both giving and getting trust. Deposits to these emotional bank accounts are made by aligning with others and making an appeal to both offer and accept trust, building sustainable and reliable connections from this basis.

Building trust in a relationship accomplishes a dual mission for the compliance professional. First, trust is a must for an advisory model to succeed, in order for compliance officers to competently consult and play a formidable sparring partner to business counterparties and functional partners. Second, once this trust is established, between compliance evangelists and business leaders, then it can be telegraphed out across all levels of the organization, with conduct that builds emotional bank accounts serving as both a model for and a driver to employees at all levels.

The following communication tips are handy for any compliance professional wishing to make headway on demonstrating genuine commitment to and making practical progress at these two goals:

  • Understanding: Focus on understanding others and seeking common interests and shared ideas to create a baseline across which, when established and strong, each party can confidently reach to reconcile differences and bridge gaps.
  • Details: Take care of details, because the little things can both help and hurt more than they might appear to be able to do on the surface. In a relationship there are no immaterial things, everything is cumulative, and a sustainable interaction must not abide even the smallest slights when doing the right thing is within reach.
  • Commitment: Be willing to make promises and steadfast about keeping true to them. Part of being strong and principled is making commitments both freely and seriously. Being noncommittal or unreliable are both huge trust deficiencies and impediments to forming successful relationships built to last.
  • Clarity: So much conflict comes from misunderstanding of expectations. Collaborative work will always fail if it is unclear who does what and for what purpose. Differing or vague opinions about shared purposes can be avoided by being unambiguous from the beginning. Open communication should always be clear communication, allowing for a transparent and trust-driven relationship to grow up around the terms of the transactions between individuals.
  • Sincerity: Being sincere taken honesty to the next level, aimed for integrity. It’s necessary to be sincere in statements as well as in the commitments and responsibilities as discussed above. However, it’s also necessary to be sincere about failures, and to acknowledge these as well as concentrate on growing beyond these so that they don’t repeat and diminish other progress.

Trust, honesty, and credibility are the building blocks of any strategy or mission that takes a values-based approach through promotion of the character ethic. Giving and receiving understanding, just as trust, is important for creating an effective culture of compliance and promoting integrity both at the employee and organizational level.

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