The Necessary Ingredient to Compliance Success: Interpersonal Skills
We always bandy the phrase around of “people skills,” or the old trendy phrase of “emotional intelligence.” Hopefully, this posting can create some ideas around new approaches to these old concepts and trendy terminology.
Compliance professionals need to develop strong interpersonal skills. It is one of several important personal skills and talents that are needed for a compliance officer to succeed. Maybe the point is better expressed by the converse – a compliance officer is very unlikely to succeed if he or she has poor interpersonal skills.
Many professions outside of compliance require interpersonal skills as well. In the compliance field, however, there is an important mix of leadership, alliance building, persuasion, and technical focus and analysis that is needed. Compliance is not an easy field and it takes a rare set of personal traits to succeed.
Many people confuse the ability to get along with people as the same as interpersonal skills. Let me draw a distinction – getting along with people is easy if you agree with them or do not challenge their way of thinking or solving issues. A person with interpersonal skills has the ability to read people, persuade people and promote effective collaboration and problem solving in an organization.
I have seen compliance officers who take on a new job and proceed to push at the top, push on the idle, and eventually alienate every significant constituency in the organization. Pushing is not the equivalent of persuasion. Instead, there are important first steps a compliance officer, new to a company, has to take before reaching outside the compliance group to build alliances and seek to enhance a compliance operation.
A compliance officer has to lead within his or sphere of control – whatever assets the compliance officer may control – a small staff and few resources. It is important to take care of you home turf first and then seek to build the relationships that are needed.
Almost from the beginning a compliance officer has to secure an important bond with the CEO and senior management. This depends on extraordinary skills in reading the motivations and preoccupations of the CEO and other senior managers. To persuade and build this important bond, the CCO has to develop a message that resonates with senior management, that they cannot turn away from or deny, and consolidate the importance of compliance.
In a sense, the CEO and senior managers are the most important initial outreach audience for a CCO. If successful, the CCO will be able to advance the program in an orderly progression.
Another important priority for the CCO is building alliances with natural allies – Internal Audit, General Counsel, Procurement, Human Resources, Information Technology, and CFO/Controller. All of these functions are critical for the CCO to engage and find common ground. No company is perfect, and there are certainly turf protection and personal agendas that can get in the way or make certain compliance functions difficult to carry out. A CCO has to be sensitive to these constituencies, rely on personal instincts, and seek to develop win-win solutions.
One sure way a CCO can doom his or her program is to seek to expand his or her responsibilities at the expense of other functions who want to continue operating those functions. There is no sense in making enemies from the beginning. Instead, a CCO has to bide his or her time and wait for the momentum behind the program to build in support of a decision that will seem obvious to everyone, resulting in the transfer of certain functions to the CCO’s domain.
People are people, except when you put them in an organization where egos and personal dramas are replayed, demonstrated, or frustrating to organizational goals. Usually, CCOs are eternal optimists. A positive attitude can come in handy, but CCOs need to be firm in their commitment, resolute in their drive and honest leaders and brokers in the navigation of corporate politics and organizational activities.