Insights from Chief Compliance Officers

What happens when a group of CCOs get together?

Over the past few months, Convercent hit the road to various cities including Atlanta, Boston and Chicago to bring together small groups of compliance executives for closed-door roundtables. The focus of these gatherings is to get a group of peers together to discuss what they’re working on, the challenges they’re facing and share how they run their day-to-day programs while also bolstering the overall business case for compliance.

We had various companies join us including Delta Airlines, The Home Depot, Hartford Financial Services, Kraft Foods Group, Oshkosh Corporation, Medline Industries and more. Most of the attendees were chief compliance officers or directors of compliance.

The conversation was engaging and I am still pondering a few questions that were posed and answers that were shared.

The goal was simple: to have everyone walk away with insight or solutions that they can apply to their own organization by collaborating and problem solving with like minded compliance professionals. As soon as attendees arrived the conversations started buzzing and didn’t stop (even through a 5 course meal)! Chief compliance officers, directors and managers posed their challenges, questions and ideas, creating a very engaging afternoon of solicited feedback and advice. Here are the key topics and takeaways we witnessed when you get a group of compliance professionals together to talk shop.

Integrating Compliance into Operations

The overall sentiment is that while compliance needs to be its own department, it can’t work alone. Like that old adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes an entire business to create an ethical and compliant company. Here’s how some top compliance teams are integrating their functions into the larger business operations arena:

  • Compliance teams should engage marketing and other departments early on so you can be involved in their meetings and participate on a regular and recurring basis.
  • Develop a compliance plan for an entire year so you have a clear roadmap and other departments have insight into your planned programs and initiatives.
  • Treat the employees of your organization as customers and market compliance to them—newsletters, regular emails, events, etc.
  • Host monthly, quarterly or yearly compliance events for employees. This gives you a platform to share information, a way to stay active and in front of employees and a chance for you to make compliance fun and engaging rather than stiff and rule-heavy.
  • Be a part of annual HR meetings. This is another time compliance folks get to share compliance updates and information with the broader organization.
  • Most people agreed that everyone is generally receptive to compliance information so don’t be shy!

Program Measurement and Reporting

Reporting is a hot topic these days when it comes to anything compliance. Everyone at all the roundtables agreed that they understand the importance of reporting … but they also all agreed that pulling reports remains a major challenge.

The common theme we heard is that reporting was time consuming yet critical.

Two major themes surfaced when it came to sharing reporting hassles: The concern that some things are being missed and the lack of a single point for reporting.

Several people mentioned that they struggle with tracking face-to-face interactions. If an employee makes a report to someone in the compliance department, the attendees were fairly confident that the right process and documentation procedures were being followed. But what if the employee talked to his manager? That’s when compliance professionals start laying awake at night worrying that something’s slipping through the cracks. This problem area increases as companies get larger.

While this is a common concern, a potential solution did surface during discussions. One CCO explained that his company created a “meeting in a box” for regional and mid-level managers. He put together a collection of compliance training materials and sent it to all his managers so that they could use those resources when talking to and training their employees.

The other struggle is just as fundamental. Compliance teams increasingly understand the need to analyze data and identify root causes of issues. The problem is getting that data. Most teams—even at giant international corporations—find themselves looking at Excel to track policies, surveys to document training and other programs for different initiatives. While some people do have a single dashboard that let’s them tie important data together, the majority of attendees lamented not having a single source of truth that would let them easily create reports and unearth deeper insights.

The role of the compliance executive is changing before our eyes. With more resources and greater access to the CEO and Board, there’s more impetus than ever before for compliance executives to demonstrate and bolster the value of compliance to business performance. Now compliance teams are trying to get the data to help them do that.

Leadership Buy-in

Even though many attendees shared the same job title or work for companies of a similar size, the reporting chain still varied. Some people said they report directly to their board of directors, others report to the general counsel. Directors tended to report to a CCO or chief ethics officer. Clearly compliance—as a fairly young profession and department—is still trying to find its norm.

Getting buy-in is still an aspect that many compliance professionals are feeling out as they get more face time with the board. Those with good relationships and long-standing relationships with their boards shared some valuable insights. The most repeated bit of advice was “talk about the things your board cares about.”

These roundtables are so much more valuable than large, national events. The setting allows us to share information and absorb it much quicker.

One CCO said that as long as you can justify an initiative you can sell it to the board. Essentially, identify a problem area and explain it’s potential business impact to the board. This often helps her secure buy-in to address critical issues.

We’re so happy we got to hear these amazing compliance professionals share their hard-earned wisdom. We’ll share our next round of insights after our next conversations!

We’re already studying the map and starting to schedule roundtables for the fall. Is there a city near you that we should make our next stop?