The State of Mind of a White Collar Criminal
As a chief compliance officer, it is important to consider the mindset of a criminal. Not to complete tasks and accomplish your objectives. Instead, it is important to understand the criminal mind, what makes them tick and why they engage in criminal behavior.
More specifically, when putting together a compliance program, a CCO should consider why an employee would steal, commit bribery or engage in other misconduct. I am not saying that a compliance program should assume that all of a company’s employees might or will engage in misconduct but it is worth considering how an employee decides to commit misconduct, and the ways in which they eventually commit to carrying out a criminal scheme.
There have been plenty of books, television shows, interviews and studies focused on white collar criminals. From my perspective, there is one telltale characteristic that cuts across most white collar criminals – a lack of empathy. In other words, a white collar criminal appears to have no ability to consider or even feel any empathy for a victim of his misconduct. If an employee starts to steal from a company, the employee is unlikely to feel any empathy for the company or any of its employees caused by his or her misconduct. Even in more specific cases where an executive steals from a pension fund, ruins numerous retirement funds or savings of innocent victims, the executive is unlikely to feel any empathy for the people who may have lost their savings or their retirement.
While in our day-to-day interactions with friends, family members and associates, we may be able to identify someone who may lack the ability to feel empathy, it is hard to apply this as a screen to managers and employees at a company. On the other hand, if any employee displays a significant lack of empathy, there may be cause for concern.
A second significant characteristic of a white collar criminal is the lack of remorse. A white collar criminal can usually mouth the words, and may even sound credible, but if you take the time to study the person, his or her behaviors over a period of time, the words will eventually sound empty.
We all know when our children, for example, do not really express remorse, and this same antenna can be used when dealing with managers and employees. It is fairly easy to spot when someone apologizes in a disingenuous manner, especially if they use the phrase, “I am sorry that you feel that way ….”
In my experience, there is an additional characteristic of a white collar criminal – the ability to rationalize his or her conduct. An employee stole close to a million dollars from a company. When asked about it, she became indignant because the company had “mistreated” her for years, and “taken her for granted.” By characterizing themselves as victims, these criminals are able to escape any feeling of remorse or even doubt about their conduct. They feel righteous about what they did and will only acknowledge some kind of responsibility when they face internal discipline and/or prosecution.
What does all of this man for the CCO? There are managers and employees who cannot regulate their conduct and will look for opportunities to circumvent rules and “game” the system. CCOs cannot persuade these bad actors to turn over a new leaf – they are unlikely to be persuaded or influenced.
As a result, CCOs have to commit to a different strategy – create an ethical culture where managers and employees will report misconduct. Of course, this is no guarantee for success, but creating a culture of compliance where managers and employees believe in the company’s mission and want to protect the company is the most effective strategy choice.
CCOs face unique challenges when attempting to regulate employee misconduct. No one is perfect and CCOs have to recognize that. Just by saying and instilling a culture of “do the right thing,” there is no guarantee that everyone in a company will follow that motto.