Operationalizing Your Compliance Program: Local Compliance Officers and Businesses

The Justice Potter Stewart phrase, “You know it when you see it,” applies to life issues and even compliance.  Global companies struggle with program design, allocation of resources (e.g. human resources and money/assets), and program operation. 

We all hear (and repeat ourselves) “no-one-size-fits-all” when addressing specific recommendations on how to design and implement a global ethics compliance program.  But that does not mean that certain ethics and compliance principles or functions can be best practice or effective.

Take for example one function that I know works, based on observation and assessment.  The best way to “operationalize” a compliance program or ensure local business buy-in is to promote the assignment and interaction of local business and compliance officers. 

For years I would hear about the danger that a local compliance officer might get “co-opted” by the business or fail to adhere to compliance requirements.  Of course, there is always a risk that a compliance officer might not be strong enough to engage the business, build a positive relationship and maintain respectful boundaries.  Frankly, such a risk means that a CCO has to be careful when selecting a compliance staff member to assume a local compliance officer position.

If properly vetted, a local compliance officer brings the unique possibility to engaging the local business staff by injecting compliance requirements and controls with a personal touch built on a positive relationship between the local compliance officer and the business.  It is easier to evade compliance requirements, when compliance does not have a personal face and a working relationship.  With personal interactions, compliance officers can still adopt local flavor to the compliance mission while adhering to global ethics and compliance requirements. 

I have observed innovative and fresh strategies implemented by local compliance officers to engage the business.  As part of this relationship, local compliance officers promote compliance by giving business staff checklists, go-bys, and other supportive approaches to facilitate compliance.  In return, and as part of a healthy relationship, business staff bring the local compliance officer to the business table in order to ensure timely compliance planning.  As a result, like any aspect of human interaction, the more success the business and the compliance team are able to demonstrate, the more they rely on each other.

Global program design has to embrace the local model – and with appropriate risk considerations.  When a CCO has limited resources available for local compliance needs, the CCO should use a risk-based approach to prioritize where local compliance can mitigate risks. 

CCOs are good at assessing risk and allocating resources – using a risk-based approach focuses on risk and revenue as two key factors to weigh.  A local compliance officer strategy, while ideal for many situations, may be limited to high-risk countries or markets, depending on the design and operation of business staff.

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