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The Myth of Corporate Resources and Efficiency

When I was a federal prosecutor and investigating corporations for misconduct, I imagined a well-oiled machine with vast resources, capable of overwhelming government prosecutors and law enforcement agents with lawyers, resources and influence. Prosecutors typically view corporations with this inflated perspective.

After working with companies and gaining insights into internal corporate functions, I have realized that prosecutors routinely inflate corporate resources, capabilities and influence. Except for a few companies, the general corporate population does not have the muscle and influence that prosecutors fear. 

To the contrary, corporate resources are often spread thin. Resources are tight.  Corporate operations are run without waste.  This does not mean corporations run efficiently. To the contrary, most companies operate with numerous inefficiencies. Many companies succeed despite themselves. An efficiency expert would have a field day at most companies fixing internal procedures and systems.

My observation is confirmed over and over when I work with companies struggling to make the investment in corporate compliance programs. Ethics and compliance professionals regularly lobby for adequate resources and influence.  This should be a no brainer but yet companies struggle to decide whether to allocate necessary resources to advance their ethics and compliance programs.

Compliance professionals dig into company processes and systems in order to focus on relevant risks. From this vantage, compliance professionals can readily identify inefficiencies, ineptitude and waste. For example, I have observed important corporate procurement operations that rely on hand-written excel spreadsheets rather than automated solutions and management systems.  This is not atypical and is surprising given the available resources to most corporations.

As you strip away each layer of corporate veneer and dig into the actual business processes, it is always surprising how corporate operations have been strung together, the gaps that are evident, and the obvious need to improve efficiency. The existence of organizational silos is corrosive to corporate efficiency. By definition, silos inevitably increase duplicative functions. In most cases, it is easy to identify operational silos usually created around specific functions and personnel. The exception to this rule is when one observes coordination among various functions and cooperation across functionalities.

Corporate compliance functions depend on understanding internal business processes and operations. A successful corporate compliance program has to be layered on business processes and activities. In doing so, compliance officers bring a valuable perspective to the table and should contribute to overall business operations.  This is part and parcel of an effective business-compliance partnership.

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