As 2020 rolled over into 2021, there was an almost audible sigh of relief around the globe.
But it only took a few days for 2021 to prove that we didn’t leave any of the unrest behind us, just because one calendar year succumbed to another. Richard Cassin wrote on the FCPA blog this week that we’re all feeling “flattened out” by the onslaught of events and emotions, and I found myself nodding in agreement.
Regardless of our collective emotional state here in the first week of 2021, 2020 made clear that compliance is more essential than ever—and it looks like this year will continue to throw us, as compliance professionals, into the center of some very important conversations. We have important work to do, and it will take vision and forward thinking to meet the challenges ahead.
I asked on LinkedIn the other day, “What’s on your compliance vision board for 2021?” In case you aren’t familiar with the concept of a vision board, it is a representation of your goals and desires for the year ahead. I thought I might get a few interesting comments, but I was frankly overwhelmed by the response. It turns out, the ethics and compliance profession is made up of visionaries who aren’t cowed by a challenge.
So, in an effort to spread the galvanizing effect of this “compliance vision board” conversation as wide as possible, I’m sharing some of the recurring themes and responses I received here. Maybe they’ll give us all the energy we need to face whatever comes next—and make our companies more ethical places to work.
A Compliance Vision Board for 2021
Deeper employee engagement with compliance—not just as an organizational function, but as a way to work
Adam Balfour, VP and General Counsel for Corporate Compliance and Latin America at Bridgestone Americas, kicked off the conversation with a whopper of an answer: “I want to keep seeing compliance feel like less of a foreign and abstract concept for people and for it to be much more relatable. I think most employees want to support compliance, but can sometimes struggle to understand what compliance means at their organization (since no two compliance programs are, or should be, the same) and what is truly expected of them on a day to day basis (especially for managers and supervisors who play such a key and important role).”
Jenifer Ng, Compliance Leader APAC for Baker Hughes, reinforced this point: “My vision board is strengthening compliance culture making it a daily conversation by our business teams in business operations, especially during these challenging times where compliance may be compromised in order to get the numbers.”
And I loved the collaborative vision that Ariel Weindling, Founder and CEO of NotMe Solutions, shared: “Boards, CCOs and employees working together so employees can take and embrace the key role they can play in the organization’s compliance efforts – crowdsourced compliance would be on my vision board for 2021!”
A bigger role for compliance in diversity, equity, and inclusion
In the summer of 2020, racial justice protests kicked off a global conversation about the responsibility of business leaders to foster equitable working environments. Compliance teams have been taking up the mantle and thinking long and hard about their role in that work.
Fernanda Beça, Compliance Analyst at PicPay in Sao Paulo, Brazil, says, “I believe that one of the major compliance movements in 2021 will be the implementation of guidelines related to diversity and inclusion in companies.”
Her opinion was echoed by several commenters, including Rupert Evill, Founder of EthicsInsight in Singapore, who pointed out that harassment and discrimination can be an indicator of greater risk: “Anecdotally, in my work, if you see discrimination & harassment allegations it correlates strongly with other violations, [including] toxic culture.”
Elevating the CCO role
Matt Kelly, Editor and CEO of Radical Compliance, kept it short and sweet: “An org chart with the CCO not reporting into the general counsel.”
Many, many commenters reiterated and expanded on this point, suggesting that compliance pros are taking a close look at their position within the organizational hierarchy as we kick off the New Year.
Mary Shirley, Corporate Compliance Lawyer and co-host of the podcast Great Women in Compliance, suggested that there is a place for compliance among the Board of Directors: “I’m expecting the theme of members of the Compliance community advocating for Ethics and Compliance professionals on boards to continue and gather steam… The Jobs Report recently reported on two Compliance professionals being appointed to boards, in one week so I am hopeful that the value in C&E expertise on boards is becoming recognized.”
Cross-functional collaboration and establishing compliance allies
Elevating your team is an admirable goal—but everyone knows you can’t get to the top without a few well-placed allies. The idea of drawing connections between compliance and our natural supporters in ESG, risk, and others came up several times.
Andrew McBride, Chief Compliance Officer at Albemarle Corporation summed it up and posed a question that I’m sure many of us will be asking this year: “In the area of ethics and compliance we have recently seen greater program/enforcement alignment between discrete risk areas (antitrust, corruption, market manipulation). This alignment is extending into other areas such as sustainability (human rights, responsible sourcing) which compliance is well placed to support or even lead. It raises the question: are we “compliance” or (very good) risk management professionals?”
Given the new risks that our companies are facing in 2021, a cross-functional approach will prove necessary, points out Chetan Lunkar, Director of Forensic & Dispute Services at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. in Bangalore, India: “My vision would be enhanced co-operation and engagement between the various functions (and not just the E&C teams) charged with compliance and an appreciation of the value each function brings on board. Considering that the pandemic has bought about a whole new set of challenges and opportunities and some of them are here to stay, there would be a tangential shift in compliance risks which would require a cross functional approach and collaboration in letter and spirit.”
So there you have it, a vision of the future of compliance, as shaped by your peers in the profession. Collaborating with colleagues; leading from the top of the org chart; fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion; and engaging employees more deeply with compliance—now that’s a future I’ll gladly toast to.
2021 Compliance Checklist
Do you have a strong compliance foundation in place to move forward with your vision for the future? Take an honest, clear look at your compliance program with our annual checklist, updated for 2021.