Chief Compliance Officers: Are They Superheroes?

superheroWe all remember our childhood when we believed in the power of superheroes.  Superman was someone I always admired.   (I was a DC Comics fan, not a Marvel Comics fan).

Chief Compliance Officers have to be careful to avoid a trap – they are not superheroes and most importantly, CCOs cannot single-handedly prevent a company from violating its code of conduct or the law.  In fact, any company that tells you that the CCO is preventing the company from violating the law, does not understand the role of compliance.

I know it is trite to say, but compliance is a team effort.  The CCO is not the leader of the team, contrary to the daily perception of the profession.  CCOs market and communicate strategies and tools to help others in the company ensure compliance.

To be more precise, CCOs indoctrinate business managers in the trenches about the systems and tools for protecting the company from violations.  That is why the ethical tone of the company is critical.

If the culture of a company is clear, managers will know – and expect – to own the processes for ensuring compliance.  If the ethical culture is muddled, or the message is not effectively delivered, managers will not own the compliance process and the company will be at risk.superheroes2

The CCO does not guarantee compliance.  The CCO, if effective, provides the systems and processes to the business managers to ensure compliance.  More importantly, the CCO carries forward the company’s ethical culture and reinforces it through his or her actions and priorities.

Too may companies think they have an effective compliance program because they have an independent and empowered CCO.  That is the wrong assumption.  The CCO is only as good as the company’s ethical culture, and the willingness of business manager to take on (i.e. own) compliance as an important priority.

We all want to believe that our actions alone can have a dramatic impact on a company (much less the world).  Unfortunately, CCOs, like others in life, have only limited capabilities and influence over a company’s compliance performance.

Like many things in life, compliance is interdependent on cooperation, collaboration and a willingness of everyone in a company to work together toward a common objective.  Cooperation is the key to any company compliance program.  No one person can ensure success, even the CEO.

superheroes3CCOs have to be careful to manage expectations and remind everyone that the ultimate success or failure of a compliance program depends on the cooperation of others inside the organization. A CCO can have a an impact but the CCO can never guarantee success.

We may all want to be superheroes but those days are long gone.  Instead, we are left with the reality – humans achieve great things when they work together for a common good.  Compliance is no different.

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