Rosa Parks and customs

Sixty-two years ago today, Rosa Parks, an activist in the US Civil Rights Movement, refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section of a city bus. She was arrested, despite the fact that she had not violated any laws. What she refused to comply with was a custom that had developed over time, where bus drivers made black passengers move, stand or disembark to make room for white passengers when the white section became full. This custom was so ingrained in the city of Montgomery that when Parks asked the arresting officer why she was being removed, he told her “The law’s the law.”

That is the power of a custom. So strong that people take it as law.

And that is the power of organizational culture. Those rules that we follow at work, whether or not they are written. Whether or not they are legal. The outcome of the masses adopting behaviors by consensus.

A good culture can propel the organization at the top of the heap and benefits everyone. A bad culture might benefit a few but creates a drag on the entire organization.

Every bad culture deserves a counter-movement. Every movement needs a Rosa Parks.

See anything you can fix today?

Who wants to reduce corruption?

China has punished one million public officials for corruption (including tens of thousands in jail or under house arrest).

India recently demonetized two popular bank notes to curb illicit payments and exchanges.

Saudi Arabia arrested 200 princes and billionaires accused of corruption, saying it cannot afford to allocate 10% of its government spending to corrupt payments.

These countries have taken bold steps  because they understand that it is in their best interest to reduce corruption.

Yet, too many P&L owners bemoan the fact that their compliance office requires gift approvals and third-party vetting. They call it red-tape and claim it will kill the business.

Anyone else here sees a disconnect?

Do less, care more.

The job of an ethics & compliance officer has peaks and valleys. Times when we love our job and days when we dread walking through the door.

For me, the low points are when I have too much on my plate. Not necessarily in the form of a single big project but rather when I have a few dozen minor initiatives going on all at the same time (on top of a big project!). With so many deadlines looming, I skip over details, I decline meetings I should attend, and my sense of humor goes south. In other words, I stop caring. I get in these situations because I allow good be the enemy of the best. I say yes to projects with marginal benefits without weighing the opportunity cost. And when that cost manifests itself, it’s usually too late.

I find the greatest job satisfaction when I do less and care more. By “doing less”, I don’t mean a 4-hour work week. I mean having a curated selection of projects allowing me to be focused (AF). Never more than a handful, ideally two or three. By “caring”, I mean having the time to think about the impact I can create, to identify the best ideas to create that impact, to come up with a plan, to execute with focus, and to reflect on the outcome. Caring also means that people come first and that failure is seen as learning.

The next time you find yourself uninspired at work, check to see if perhaps you are caught up in second-tier activities. If so, prioritize your work to maximize your impact through activities you enjoy. You will feel the excitement. You will feel the energy.

You will care.

Teaching our way to a healthy culture

“A good teacher knows that when a student is failing, the blame falls on the instructor, not the pupil.”

– Ryan Holiday

We are all teachers.

So when an employee slips up, we must have a critical look at our policies, training, controls, and audits, and ask “Where have we failed?” More importantly, we ought to examine our culture. Are we walking the talk?

And then we proceed with kindness, treating others the way they would want to be treated.

Doing so teaches all involved the way to a healthy corporate culture.

E&C podcasts

Today I am sharing a short list of ethics & compliance podcasts that I regularly listen to.

I enjoy podcasts because they save me time. Unlike articles and books and videos, I can listen to an episode while doing something else (like driving to work).

Here are the shows I currently subscribe to:

Are you listening to others? If so, please list them in the comment section below. I would love to try them out.

P.S.: I am dabbling into the audio world myself and considering upping my game in 2018.

There will be challenges

The work of an Ethics & Compliance Officer can be stressful at times.

We deal with colleagues who break the rules and who violate our values. We participate in the resulting investigative and disciplinary processes. We are forced to engage in unpleasant conversations.

We wish it wasn’t so. That we didn’t have to deal with it.

Of course, it would be silly to expect otherwise. That’s part of our job. Anyone signing up for this role knows these situations will arise regularly. Yet, we feel unprepared and uneasy each time.

In the quiet moments between crises, it is helpful to anticipate the next one. To accept that it is coming. To understand our role in the process.

We can then face the challenges with equanimity.

Emotional labor

In his post today, Seth Godin tells the story of a store clerk who was described as competent but who couldn’t engage very well with customers.

A few decades ago, perhaps a clerk’s competence could be narrowly define as her ability to punch the right button on the register and give correct change – what Godin calls “compliance” (just doing your work). But no more. Today, Godin says, we seek employees that can also engage in emotional labor.

Emotional labor + compliance = competence.


I can’t help but wonder: Is “ethics & compliance” the same as “emotional labor & compliance”?

One could argue that merely complying, simply following the rules or just doing what you’re told requires less emotional labor than asking the right questions, looking for better ways and standing up when things aren’t right.

When we say that we are looking for ethical employees, are we actually looking for emotional laborer? For people who don’t check their emotions at the door when the come to work? For people who want to bring their whole self to work? For people who care about our products, services, customers and mission?

I think we do. That said, what are today’s employers doing to attract and retain this type of employee? Have they engaged in the necessary emotional labor?