Focusing on the Critical Compliance Disconnect

Luke“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”—Captain in Cool Hand Luke

Sometimes Chief Ethics and Compliance Officers need to zero in on an issue because it is critical to the operation of an ethics and compliance program. I am not suggesting that CECOs should never focus on an issue but I am reluctant to urge micro managing because of the danger of getting lost in the weeds.

Employee culture surveys have set up an important disconnect in the compliance world where a fundamental disconnect occurs in raising employee concerns. It is well established that managers and employees prefer to raise issues of concern to their immediate supervisor.

That is a good thing because it means they want to work with their immediate supervisor and they believe that they will make a positive impression by doing so. Companies spend millions of dollars paying consultants to tell them this basic fact, conducting employee surveys that only confirm this fact, and ultimately, spending money to communicate this message to their employees.

That is all well and good, except for one basic problem. Employee surveys routinely confirm a basic fact that the immediate supervisors have no idea how to handle the concerns raised by their managers or employees.

As a result, important employee concerns can get lost in the process, leading to frustration and eventual distrust of the overall reporting system inside a company.luke2

Companies spend so much time and effort on the question of what they can do to increase and promote a speaking up culture that they forget the last critical piece – a person who knows how and is willing to listen.

My point seems obvious (as usual) and you would be surprised how many companies ignore the role of the recipient of important employee concerns.

First, companies have to develop protocols and train their managers and employees on what to do when they learn of a specific employee concern. Supervisors throughout the company have to understand their critical role in raising concerns, and avoiding any reluctance that such concerns will reflect on them and their performance.

Second, supervisors should be encouraged, not discouraged or neglectful, to encourage employee concerns and represent their intention to pass those concerns along to have them addressed.

Luke3As an alternative or a supplement, companies have been studying and even implementing programs to create “information recipients” in a company. These recipients have only one job – to hear a concern and pass it along to the appropriate person for further action. They play no role in the investigation or resolution of the issue. They are mere conduits through which information is collected and passed along.

The problem of information flow and escalation is critical, especially when we see company after company falling to government enforcement actions for failures to act or to learn important information. A speak up culture is invaluable but a company has to make sure that they have officials with appropriate authority ready to listen.

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