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

Insights from management for compliance officers

This is the fourth and final in a series of four posts on insights for compliance officers from different fields of study.  The first post in this series covered lessons from psychology regarding, for example, self-interest and decision-making, from prominent figures such as Sheena Iyengar and Malcolm Gladwell.  The second post was about insights for compliance officers from self-development and coaching, including from people such as Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle.  Last week’s post discussed behavioral economics, focusing on the work of people such as Dan Ariely and Richard Thaler.  Today’s post will suggest ways in which management theory can be applied to corporate compliance programs.

As a practice, compliance is greatly concerned with topics such as governance, controls, leadership, sustainability, business values, organizational integrity, risk controls, institutional decision-making, tone and conduct at the top, and corporate culture.  It shares these general disciplinary themes with management theory, which takes on the broad task of determining and guiding the strategic direction of an organization and steering its employees and resources in furtherance of these goals.  Given that the contributions of a robust compliance program to the regulatory, practical, and cultural aspects of this task are great, compliance officers stand to gain great insight from studying commentary from the field of management theory.


Insights from self-development and coaching for compliance officers

This is the second in a series of four posts on insights for compliance officers from different fields of study.  Last week’s post was about lessons from psychology regarding motivation and choice, from prominent figures such as Abraham Maslow and Sheena Iyengar.  Today’s post will discuss insights from self-development and coaching.  Next Tuesday’s post will be about insights from behavioral economics.  Finally, on March 13, the last post in this series will discuss how business management theories can be useful for compliance officers.

Much like the insights from psychology discussed in last week’s post linked above, theory of self-development and coaching can be very useful for creating and cultivating a culture of compliance at both the individual and organizational levels.  Focusing on thoughtful growth and progress, inner success and ethical achievement, and a values-based, sustainable approach to strategy and mission are all necessary for fostering integrity in organizations and groups or people within them.  Motivational writings on paths to self-development and tips for effective coaching can translate easily to informing a compliance culture.


Ethical leadership in the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory

When the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, they did much more than win a football championship.  To Eagles fans, the victory represented the culmination of 52 years spent waiting for their team to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy home to Philadelphia.  Feeling disliked, disrespected, and underestimated by rivals and analysts alike, the Eagles and their fans leaned into their adopted underdog persona, making the ultimate win all the more powerful.

The media attention around the aftermath of the game has focused on the jubilation and vindication, amidst this prior doubt and dismissal, felt by the fans, the players, the coaching staff, and everyone affiliated with the team.  All this was capped off by a joyful parade down Broad Street to commemorate the accomplishment.


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.


Inexperienced CEOs and immature compliance cultures

It is never too early, or too burdensome, to create a fundamental business compliance program.  Small businesses, new businesses, and experimental businesses can all benefit tremendously from the foundation and organizational structure that a basic risk control framework can bring.  A disruptive or innovative company does not have to eschew everything about traditional business in favor of transformative and novel ways of working.  It is fair that some strategies or philosophies may be seen as staid or unlikely to keep pace with the competitive and development pressures these businesses face.  However, the common sense responsibility (values-based) and implementation of legal and regulatory guidelines (rules-based) impact of a corporate compliance culture encourages and supports business sustainability.

All too often, however, start-up companies lack this structural backbone.  They do not have adequate policies and procedures in place, are unable to cope with the employee and supervisory demands that emerge in their workplaces and marketplaces, and grow into business practices without the controls framework and governance, risk management, and compliance structures that they find they need.  Most concerningly of all, with their attention span devoted to survival and then growth, these companies find themselves without genuine and integrity-supporting corporate cultures, and attempts to impose them over the top of the existing environment are artificial and difficult.

This challenge becomes only stronger when the company without a confident hold on compliance and ethics building blocks is dominated by a founder or CEO who is,  him or herself, on unproven ground.  Inexperienced CEOs may have amazing, ground-breaking ideas and new ways to develop and market them, but if they are not effective as either leaders or managers, then they may fall into leaning on personality ethic.  These are the leaders whose individual credibility and identities dominate every aspect of their business, to investors, colleagues, employees, customers, and the public in general.

Without a prevailing independent corporate culture that relies on a collective character ethic and mature organizational integrity, these situations do not make for long-term viable business strategies.  Instead, these companies all too often slip into misconduct, fraudulent practices, and an overall culture of non-compliance.   Risk from regulatory non-adherence, corner-cutting in basic business operational requirements, and other malfeasance is not controlled by the appropriate and thoughtful defense strategies that a compliance program could create, implement, and monitor.

There are a number of examples of companies which grew impressively and then suffered due to insufficient leadership or immature management.  In each case these businesses are known for a prominent figurehead whose personality attracted the press and the public and whose ideas were exciting to the markets and enticing to investors.  However, legal and regulatory inadequacies of these businesses and their cultures have hobbled these companies’ lasting ascent:

  • Apple – Steve Jobs – The ouster of Steve Jobs at the company he created, Apple, led by the mentor he brought on to guide him to the next level as CEO, John Sculley, is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. While this often seen as an epic example of corporate disloyalty and executive board politics, the more powerful lesson here is for business values and sustainable practices.  At the time Jobs was fired from his own company, emotional intelligence, inner success, and business mission statements were not part of the popular parlance.  Perhaps if they had been, Sculley and Jobs wouldn’t have found themselves permanently estranged: Former Apple CEO John Sculley admits Steve Jobs never forgave him, and he never repaired their friendship, before Jobs died
  • Nasty Gal – Sophia Amoruso: The retail entrepreneur and self-proclaimed “girl boss” may beg to differ with her inclusion in this list, but Sophia Amoruso is a classic example of personality ethic over character ethic.  Amoruso developed a company in her own image, and then turned her image into a personal brand that both transcended and hindered Nasty Gal.  Amoruso is a polarizing personality, and the whimsical approach she embraced in her life may be great for a career as a motivational speaker and writer where people who need inspiration can take a few tips from her for self-development.  However, a business that succeeded due to Amoruso’s successes was also vulnerable to fail due to her failures, without its own corporate identity and developed business culture, and this led to the ultimate undoing of her brand (to be rescued by a larger corporate entity, away from Amoruso’s control), rather than its longevity:  What Comes After Scandal and Scathing Reviews? Sophia Amoruso Is Finding Out
  • Uber – Travis Kalanick – Travis Kalanick’s tenure at Uber started in idolatry around the industry, when everyone with an idea for app wanted to imitate and one-up his path to success. Starting in 2016, however, cracks in the pedestal Kalanick was up on began to show.  Once his public relations woes began, they never ended, even after he was ousted as CEO of Uber for countless issues with the company’s corporate culture for employees, regulatory adherence in critical markets, and legal risks.  All of these problems came out in a powerful confluence at least in part because Uber’s quick rise to the top was enabled by non-compliance via omission at its origins:  Uber Scandal Timeline: Why Did CEO Travis Kalanick Resign? 
  • Thinx – Miki Agrawal – Check out this post for a comprehensive take on the inappropriate conduct modelling of Miki Agrawal and the destructive impact it had on corporate culture at her innovative female hygiene apparel company, Thinx.
  • Theranos – Elizabeth Holmes – Check out this post for a look at the cult of personality created by Elizabeth Holmes at the blood-testing device company Theranos, and the fraudulent business practices and misrepresentations that were enabled by it.
  • Tinder – Sean Rad – Check out this post for a detailed discussion of the emotional un-intelligence that dominated the start-up culture of Tinder due to the influence of its CEO, Sean Rad, and the absence of a burgeoning compliance program to match the booming dating app business.

For an interesting counterpoint, check out the post on Eric Schmidt at Google:  Google is not without its corporate culture challenges, particularly as shown in 2017 by the loud public discussion over diversity and engagement in its ranks and the company’s clumsy and performative handling of this bad publicity.  However, Google has often portrayed Eric Schmidt at the grown-up in the room, not to prevent or obstruct innovation and success, but to steward and support these efforts while still taking care of the underlying business operations must-haves.  Check out this Wired article on how this management structure enabled Google’s development into one of the major digital companies in the world:  At Google, Eric Schmidt Wrote the Book on Adult Supervision

For similar discussions to this one, check out this post on essential compliance tips for small businesses, and this post on challenges faced by start-ups in Silicon Valley and other disruptive industries.


Compliance as both function and discipline

Compliance makes concrete and professionalizes the rules, regulations, and questions of ethics and integrity that are everywhere in life. It can be very absolute, used in creating a framework to ensure adherence to external legal and supervisory requirements as well as internal policies and procedures, to form a rules-based approach to risk management. It can also be more esoteric, probing the challenge between general norms and existing controls, and what may be morally acceptable or within individual expectations.

Considering the distinction between the function of compliance and the discipline of compliance is helpful to develop a more mature understanding of its applications in both modes. Compliance as a function creates frameworks, translates regulations and directives into internal policies and procedures, identifies program priorities, and plans management strategies. Compliance as a discipline takes all of these efforts to ensure awareness of, and steps to comply with, all relevant laws and regulations, and applies them directly to the business in order to target this work toward facilitating ethical decision-making, encouraging integrity, and positively impacting business strategy.

The function of compliance describes the general task of keeping up to date on rules and regulations and designing governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) management strategies and structures to present to senior management, executive boards, and outside stakeholders such as regulators and other supervisory bodies. This includes regulatory compliance, which ensures that organizations are abiding by both industry regulations and government legislation. This also includes designing governance and control structures intended to encourage employee and organizational integrity and create disincentives against and penalties for misconduct.

The discipline of compliance, on the other hand, describes the dynamic and business-linked support activities that the compliance professional undertakes within the broader context of the organization. Disciplinary compliance takes the above-described principles and frameworks and applies them in the business arena. This is where the rubber meets the road between the compliance officer and the business line he or she serves. In this setting, compliance is a relationship-based activity of providing advices, cooperating and aligning with other stakeholders and functional partners, suggesting defense strategies in light of real-time business risks and strategies, and maintaining an on-going bird’s eye view of the business landscape which can only be achieved by pro-active, personal engagement.

Building upon the above definitions and borrowing from the philosophy of ethics, the comparison could be made between the compliance function and normative ethics on one hand, and the compliance discipline and applied ethics on the other hand.

The compliance function links to normative ethics, in which moral behavior is compared to the norms of the social context in which the actions are taken, because of the emphasis in both on external or supervisory expectations and standards. Normative ethics is quite useful in identifying and categorizing compliance risks and suggesting possible mitigations and strategies for the ones that cannot be eliminated or are deemed acceptable to some extent. Within the function of compliance, the question of what individuals should or should not do, is answered by relevant laws, regulations, principles, rules, standards and codes of conduct, and other guidelines applicable to these individuals and the organizations in which they work.

The compliance discipline, in the meantime, can be connected neatly to applied ethics, which centers on the use of ethical theory in order to analyze and address actual moral issues that arise in work and life. Dilemma analysis and discussion, and compliance awareness dialogs, all borrow from the didactic constructs of applied ethics.   Building upon the structures and foundations that come from the compliance function and from the philosophy of normative ethics, the compliance discipline and applied ethics both are used to take these frameworks from strict requirements to living, practical considerations within the robust culture of compliance at the organization.

For more posts on types of compliance and ethics, check out some of these: Guiding principles for a compliance advisory practiceCompliance 101: A quick guide; The five branches of ethics as applied to compliance principles; How to make voluntary engagement with compliance values meaningful.  Posts each Monday, which are categorized in “Best Practices,” often address this sort of topic from both academic and practical perspectives.


Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Gregg Popovich

This is the fifth and final post in a month-long series profiling acclaimed sports coaches for their ethical leadership abilities. John Wooden, famed UCLA basketball coach, and his Pyramid of Success were the subject of the first post. The second post was about Johan Cruyff, world-famous Dutch footballer and international club manager, and the ethical leadership lessons of his 14 Rules. The third profile discussed Jim Valvano and his views about leadership and success as expressed in lines from his famous 1993 ESPY Awards speech. Last week’s post focused on Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and values for ethical leaders from his famous motivational speeches.

Finally, today’s post will be about Gregg Popovich, an NBA coach who heads up the San Antonio Spurs and is well-known for his progressive and pro-active values, which often manifest in very public and political statements.

Before becoming an NBA coach, Gregg Popovich attended the United States Air Force Academy where he played basketball and majored in Soviet Studies. He served in the Air Force for five years before returning to the Academy to coach basketball there, followed by a stint as head coach at Division III Pomona-Pitzer and then assistant coach jobs in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, before returning to take a general manager job with the Spurs in 1994.

Popovich is widely considered one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history. He has been the coach of the San Antonio Spurs since 1996, making him the longest tenured active coach in not only the NBA but in all US major sports leagues. The competitive successes of the San Antonio Spurs under his stewardship are many – 20 consecutive winning seasons, five NBA championships, and more than 1,000 games won.

However, Popovich’s legacy as a winning basketball coach may be matched by his legacy as an outspoken and consistent leader on social justice issues – both in society as a whole and on the direct scale among his players. Popovich consistently uses his very visible platform to speak about inclusion, engagement, and accountability.

  • This 2007 profile of Popovich from Canada’s National Post hints at the values Popovich brings to his overall coaching vision. The profile notes that Popovich’s media profile was, at that time, lower than some other great coaches because he was not interested in self-promotion, nor did he have a singular “vision” for the team that was well-suited for branding and publicity purposes. Instead, he focused on building “strong, complicated” relationships with his players and emphasizing worldly knowledge and overall excellence alongside basketball fundamentals. This profile is especially interesting for the quote at its end, which at that time was posted in the hallway by the Spurs locker room, translated into the various languages the players on the team spoke: “When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-andfirst blow it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it but all that had gone before.” This view of success can only be espoused by a leader who sees the values and efforts of the organization as inseparable from those of the individual. This is a powerful and indeed empowering perspective on management as an activity and skill which serves the collective of the organization as well as each individual within it:  Popovich is a man of mystery
  • This 2013 round-up on Popovich centers on his interesting and complex personality and background, intended to fascinate basketball and sports fans. In most cases, these traits and experiences translate directly to his ethical leadership qualities as well, and the root is in Popovich’s personalized and compassionate approach to coaching individuals rather than just constructing offenses, defences, and plays in a vacuum. When he was general manager of the Spurs and the head coach wasn’t getting the job done, Popovich stepped up and put himself on the line, eventually hiring himself as head coach. He took tough decisions and made himself responsible for them, a behavior that embodies ethical leadership: An Ode to Gregg Popovich, the Most Interesting Man in the NBA
  • In 2014, Fortune included Popovich in its “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” feature. In this view, Popovich, portrayed as curmudgeonly and stoic, distinguishes his leadership by enabling his whole team, from the bench players to the superstars, to excel and achieve. His no-nonsense style focuses on character ethic, not personality ethic, which is the central value for promoting and sustaining individual integrity to then scale across the organization. Popovich’s leadership is special in this view because it is so relationship-focused, giving his players incentive to seek individual inner success, not just to please a coach or beat an opponent in a one-off, unsustainable fashion: Another victory for ‘Pop.’ Another show of leadership
  • Business Insider ran a 2016 piece on Popovich which again centered on his relationship-focused, individual-valuing coaching philosophy. His perspectives on rebounding from failure, organizational governance, and player development all fit within the broad strokes of ethical leadership. In particular, Popovich emphasizes that motivating players and resolving conflict is best accomplished through honesty and personal accountability. These is fundamental perspective for encouraging organizational and individual (employee, player, or otherwise) integrity. Again, character ethic is the most important, and this enables open communication and feed-forward development and problem-solving:  Gregg Popovich has a brilliant philosophy on handling players, and it exemplifies the Spurs’ unprecedented run of success
  • From 2017, this ESPN piece focuses on Popovich’s political engagement and public opposition to what he sees as immoral political behavior. However, the rationale for why Popovich feels so strongly about this and indeed why he feels that he has an ethical imperative to speak out loudly about it is very illustrative of his leadership views. The article shares an anecdote about a time that Popovich began a high-stakes film session by sharing his knowledge on a historical topic of personal importance to one of his players. Popovich creates an environment of inclusion on his team by making what is different between them, important and meaningful to all of them, by translating these lessons into leadership messages for all. This empathetic approach to leadership is an ultimate expression of integrity and engagement, two imperative ethical qualities in management. For the Spurs, recruiting based on diversity and then using that diversity as motivation leads to both market competition as well as organizational cohesion:  Why President Trump ignites Gregg Popovich

Hopefully this series of posts about sports coaches as ethical leaders has been entertaining and informative, lending a new perspective to management values in a different venue than the traditional corporate compliance environment. The concepts of inner success, character ethic, personal accountability, and purpose-driven life and work are all commonly endorsed by these ethical leaders as they guide their teams, which are major organizations in and of themselves, to competitive achievements with meaningful, sustainable motivations behind them.


Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Vince Lombardi

This is the fourth post in a month-long series of five that profile well-known sports coaches as examples of ethical leadership. The first post was about John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success he created while coaching basketball at UCLA. Johan Cruyff, legendary Dutch football player and manager, and the 14 Rules that are displayed at the fields that bear his name worldwide was the subject of the second post. Last Wednesday’s profile was of Jim Valvano, featuring an analysis on his views about leadership and success as featured in lines from his famous 1993 ESPY Awards speech. Today’s post focuses on Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and his views on ethical leadership as expressed by his motivational speeches to his players and the public.

Vince Lombardi was a football player and coach who achieved great success over his 15 years working in the NFL before his death from cancer in 1970. Many critics consider Lombardi to have been one of the greatest coaches in the history of football, and this opinion was borne out in the records of the teams he coached and the accolades he received during his career. His tenure at the Green Bay Packers produced five NFL championships in the seven years from 1961-1967. He was elevated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the NFL Super Bowl trophy was named in his honor. He has been admired and revered by many professional coaches, including the subject of last week’s ethical leadership profile, Jim Valvano. Therefore the effect of his powerful leadership style which will be explored below has been a legacy which has far outlived his own career.

Lombardi is known to have been a powerful, inspiring, and complex individual as a coach. He was known for his fiery, loud temper and authoritarian ways as much as he was for his insistence upon fairness and unconditional respect for the members of his football organizations. He demanded much from his players and in return was passionately devoted to them both as teams and as individuals. He would punish or call out players who did not meet his standards for effort or commitment, but also sought to actively recognize dedication and perseverance, which he upheld as critical values for success and achievement. He was devoutly religious yet open-eyed to prejudice and discrimination, which he strove to oppose with zero tolerance, and he was notable for his largely liberal beliefs.

Following the premature end of his life in 1970, Lombardi has been revered by football’s institutions, fans of the teams he coached, and people in the communities he impacted, especially in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and New York. Plays, movies, and books have been written about his influence as a coach and leader. Lombardi’s enduring legacy has been inspiring statements from speeches he made to players and other motivational comments attributed to him. Collections of these have been published and studied both by people working in sports and by others in all walks of life.

Of course, many of these statements are relevant not just to a football team preparing for a game or a coach seeking to motivate his players, but to life in general, and to a compliance professional interested with inspiring leadership ethics in specific. In this theme, here are five famous quotes by Lombardi, annotated with tips for how to apply these sentiments in defining compliance values for individuals and organizations:

  1. “Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”– Moral compromise cannot be a consequence of desire for success. Core values of an organization should be sacrosanct and not up for debate or critique which is focused toward diminishing or subjugating them to commercial or external pressures.
  2. “Success demands singleness of purpose.” – As discussed in last week’s profile of Valvano, individuals who drive toward goals with a defined and committed purpose, rather than a base desire for external recognition, are best prepared for true internal achievement that is sustainable and meaningful. Ethical decision-making requires this purpose-driven approach; commitment to values is certainly deserving of that singleness.
  3. “To be successful, a man must exert an effective influence upon his brothers and upon his associates, and the degree in which he accomplished this depends on the personality of the man.” – It is not just coaches who can inspire and elevate others with their examples. All individuals must have personal accountability for their moral codes and must strive to make ethical and compliant decisions. People must recognize the huge impact that their behavior has on those around them and commit to using this influence for the collective good. No person is an island in a culture of compliance. All levels must be engaged – tone at the top, mood in the middle, buzz at the bottom – and individuals must view their own reputations and relationships with others as important extensions of the values of the organization’s compliance program.
  4. “Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.” – In a context where the organizational heuristics lean toward values-based and purpose-driven, individual ethics have a huge impact toward defining broad frameworks for making choices and defining strategy. Unethical decisions and misconduct often originate from environments where employees are isolated from the impact of their actions or where personal consequences are remote and not relatable.
  5. “A leader must identify himself within the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing superiors. He must believe that the group wants from him a sense of approval. If this feeling prevails, production, discipline, morale will be high, and in return, you can demand the cooperation to promote the goals of the community.” – Awareness and acceptance of personal accountability and consistent articulation of values and rules are critical for imbedding a culture of compliance. For that culture to succeed, leadership must speak up and out, and encourage others to safely and productively do the same. If individuals feel that their leaders espouse values, expect them to embrace those values, and provide a prevailing environment where both really matter, then the culture of compliance will be authentic and enduring.

For more powerful quotes from Lombardi on leadership and inner success, many of which are inspiring from an ethical perspective, check out the official website maintained in his name.

Also, don’t miss the final post in this series, next Wednesday, which will profile Gregg Popovich, who is the current coach of the San Antonio Spurs and is widely admired for his views on inclusion, political engagement, and personal accountability.


Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Jim Valvano

This is the third in a month-long series of five posts that analyze the ethical leadership of famous sports coaches. The first post was about John Wooden, the beloved UCLA basketball coach and creator of the Pyramid of Success. Last Wednesday’s post focused on Johan Cruyff, the acclaimed Dutch footballer and manager of Ajax, Barcelona, and Catalonia football clubs, and his 14 Rules. Today’s profile will be about Jim Valvano’s perspective on leadership and success as expressed in the famous speech he gave at the ESPY Awards in 1993.

Jim Valvano was a NCAA basketball coach for 19 years, ten of those seasons at North Carolina State. He coached his teams at NC State to many winning seasons, including two tournament championships and two regular season championships, and for several years also served as athletic director there. He was also no stranger to controversy during this time, due to accusations of rules violations involving his players’ academic qualifications and financial activities, which led to substantial administrative pressure, scrutiny, and a variety of investigations. Though these numerous investigations revealed no outright major violations in recruiting or financial practices, Valvano ultimately resigned as athletic director in 1989 and in 1990, negotiated a settlement and resigned as basketball coach as well.

Following this somewhat ignoble end to his coaching career, Valvano worked as a broadcaster and became a motivational speaker. His speeches sometimes covered his version of the controversy at NC State or offered commentary to his audiences on how to handle and get over these unfortunate events and the character and reputational damage they present. This is not an unusual path for high-profile people to take after finding themselves in crises of confidence. Practical ethics are complex and transgressions in these professional dilemmas can lead a person to a moral reckoning and awakening of the true values that matter in life and how to embrace them authentically.

Valvano’s enduring legacy is a speech he made in this exact spirit at the first ESPY Awards in 1993. He was accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award and at this time was in the throes of the glandular cancer which would take his life less than two months later. After announcing his intention to create an charitable foundation dedicated to finding the cure for cancer, he went on to speak emotionally and eloquently about individual success and his views on what made life worthwhile. This powerful perspective on purpose-driven living relied heavily on a definition of true success as inner and personal, not dictated by accolades from others or black-and-white “wins,” but rather a personal sense of accomplishment and completion that required no external justification.

This concept of internal success is important in an understanding of applied ethics and translates powerfully to a vision for individual accountability in a culture of compliance. In this theme, here are five significant statements from Valvano’s legendary speech, with suggestions for how to interpret these powerful insights for individual and organizational values to promote ethics and compliance:

  1. “To me there are three things we should all do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh… Number two is think… And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – A balanced life is a sustainable one. This way, the pleasure of the highs will be memorable, the pain of the lows will fade, and the middle will be where the lessons from both come together for a lasting effect. As Johan Cruyff’s “Total Football” showed in last week’s profile, the only practical approach to life or business is a holistic one, with all factors and outcomes taken into fair contemplation. An even keel is a long-lasting perspective.
  2. “I always have to think about what’s important in life to me… Where you started; where you are; and where you’re going to be. Those are the three things that I try and do every day.” – This expresses a perspective on success that is grounded, measured, and reasonable. Success may be a line, or an arc, or a constellation of peaks and valleys, but the present must always maintain an attachment to the origin as well as to the ambition. This perspective can both humble and motivate individuals and organizations to consider, and be true to, their values.
  3. “It’s so important to know where you are. And I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? … I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to be willing to work for it.” – Success is equal parts planning and effort. In life as well as in business, if you don’t work for it, it’s not worth having and might not be possible to keep. Professionals should be passionate about and engaged the work that they do and the reasons for which they do it – not a paycheck or external recognition, but as Valvano says, enthusiasm, vision, and commitment. Ethical decision-making is only possible if individuals are purpose-driven and accordingly, so long as they hold themselves accountable to that purpose.
  4. “I urge all of you… to be enthusiastic every day… to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.” – Adversity is always a great challenge to character ethic. Be it accusations of wrongdoing, confrontation with personal moral failures, opposition and criticism, doubt and uncertainty, or even physical illness and disease, resilience and perseverance are the only remedy. Continuing commitment to core values, even when feeding forward input or external changes and making adjustments is necessary, as is appreciation of the work and effort required to reach goals. With this in mind, genuine inner success is achievable.
  5. “Cancer can take away all my physical ability. It cannot touch my mind; it cannot touch my heart; and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” – The closing and perhaps most famous and poignant lines of Valvano’s speech, the lesson from Valvano’s conviction to endure despite his illness and physical diminishment is universal to all human endeavors. Dignity, legacy, and respect are not circumstantial and cannot be taken from a person unless freely compromised. This goes to the heart of personal ethics and morality – a person’s own register of right and wrong, internal governor and code should be untouchable and can be relied upon in even the darkest and most uncertain times.

For Valvano’s powerful 1993 ESPY speech, watch it here:

Don’t forget to check back for next Wednesday’s post, which will be about Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach (and the role model of Jim Valvano, as it happens), and clues about how he saw ethical leadership based on famous statements from his statements to players and motivational speeches. The final post in this series, on November 29, will profile Gregg Popovich, the current coach of the San Antonio Spurs with a progressive view toward people management of his players and political engagement as an expression of leadership.


Tips for improving employee accountability in compliance programs

The most ambitious culture of compliance paired with the most robust controls framework still cannot succeed without employee adherence. Employees who don’t know the correct thing to do, or those who make an unethical or non-compliant decision despite knowing, can be addressed with awareness communication in the first case or remedial action in the second case.

However, the more frequent and challenging scenario is that employees have received information about compliance risk management priorities and ethical culture at their organization. They understand this information well enough and maybe even admire the aims of the compliance program, but there’s a problem – they don’t see themselves as having an active role in it.

The best efforts of compliance programs will always be overcome by apathetic or unengaged employees who don’t see themselves as having personal compliance responsibilities. In cybersecurity, for example, the best IT systems with the most up-to-date risk controls structure will still be defeated by an employee who falls for a phishing scheme or leaves behind an unsecured laptop in a public place. Some mistakes are unavoidable, of course, just like some risks can only be mitigated or accepted. However, many other errors, acts of misconduct, or risk factors can be prevented with the appropriate individual vigilance and diligence.

So how can a corporate compliance program emphasize to employees that individual responsibility is the fundamental defense in any risk and control framework? Too many solutions from management or consultancy rely heavily on data solutions and systems approaches to addressing compliance risk. The logic goes: failures of existing compliance programs to prevent ever-evolving fraud and misconduct are unfortunately not unusual, so why not simply blame human misjudgment or incompetence for inadequate controls and therefore just automate processes whenever possible?

The above is a cynical and defeatist attitude toward corporate compliance; if management or its advisors decides that corporate compliance will fail, then it certainly will do so. However, removing the obstacles to individual responsibility is an important step to empowering organizational integrity. Outsourcing or digitalizing analysis and advisory work is an artificial, external solution. It may expedite or simplify some aspects of working with compliance risk management, but it cannot ever be as effective as a values-based approach that creates a corporate culture where good judgment and ethical decision-making are incentivized and supported.

Indeed the first, and probably best, solution for raising the standard of compliance programs and their controls is to promote employee engagement in these across all levels of the organization. This starts with individual accountability, which compliance professionals and senior management can nudge employees toward embracing these ways:

  • Walk the walk: Senior management should weave a thread of the corporate cultural values throughout all matters that touch an employee’s working life. This needs to be consistent and visible. Communication should be simple and straightforward, practical and not preachy, but it should express and reinforce the cultural values. In HR matters, for example, transparency should be communicated and modeled. Employees must see the corporate cultural values explicitly expressed as they experience corporate administration across the organization. This brings the values from mere words to a living system in which they are participants.
  • Nudge with timely reminders: Regulatory, legal, and policy requirements change rapidly. Employees that are trained regularly should be respected for what they already know; heavy-handed instruction can be seen as condescending. However, reminders upon key messaging events (anniversaries, completion of investigations, or announcements of strategies) or updates when there are new guidelines or expectations are critical. These reminders can act as nudges toward appropriate behavior for individuals whose attention may have moved on or whose understanding was out of date.
  • Work against culture of fear: People often think about speaking up in the workplace in terms of following an internal escalation process or being a whistleblower. To some people, speaking up by challenging an established procedure or an experienced colleague may seem unprofessional or presumptuous. The possibility of being opposed or facing retribution can be very scary for employees who might want to express uncertainty or ask questions. Corporate compliance programs have a responsibility to create a culture where speaking up routinely is safe and supported. A relationship-based approach to business compliance advisory is a great first step toward combating the fear factor and helping employees to speak up to check understanding or challenge practices. Involved employees are more likely to be accountable ones.
  • Actively address accountability gaps: When it is evident that an employee or group of employees do not embrace accountability in compliance risk management, address it, but not punitively. Open discussion can be mutually beneficial. Take the opportunity to express that individual responsibility is expected, and also to listen to the limitations or uncertainties that may provide an explanation for why it’s missing.
  • Insist on consequences: Disciplinary action is never the intended outcome for any employee-management relationship. Ideally everyone would want to and be able to do the right things all the time, but clearly mistakes and misconduct happen. Good people/bad people dichotomies are classic but not necessarily helpful. In reality, it’s most important to establish from the beginning that consequences for doing the wrong thing exist and will be enforced fairly and meaningfully.

There will always be people in organizations who either are in need of training or resourcing attention (wanting to do the right thing but not being properly equipped) or people who are not cultural fits (wanting to do the wrong thing despite organizational priorities). Engaging these people where possible is critical, just as holding all others accountable for their actions and responsibilities is the frontline defense most important to compliance risk management.